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Dow Jones Newswires: US Warns Oil Indus Attacks In Nigeria In Days

November 3, 2006
By Spencer Swartz
Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES

LONDON -(Dow Jones)- The U.S. Embassy in Nigeria warned Friday that within days a militant group may attack up to 20 oil facilities in Africa’s biggest oil producing country.

“This is what we are being told by our sources,” a U.S. Embassy official in Nigeria’s capital Abuja told Dow Jones Newswires.

In a notice released Friday, the U.S. consulate in the country’s commercial capital Lagos warned that a militant group “may have finalized its plans for a unified attack against oil facilities in the Niger Delta region” where nearly all of Nigeria’s oil is produced.

The notice, which did not name the militant group nor the motive for the possible assaults, went on to say the planned attacks will be carried out in the first week of November and include 10 to 20 simultaneous bombings of “land-based” targets.

A series of separate attacks on oil installations in which expatriate workers will be taken hostage may also occur, the notice warned.

No details were given of specific facilities that may be targeted, but the notice follows a similar U.S. consulate warning in early October that a giant natural gas export facility run by Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSB.LN) in the south of the country was at risk of being attacked by militants.

Oil prices rose on the news and traded up 92 cents at $58.80 a barrel for the front-month December contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange at 1631 GMT Friday.

The militant group known as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND, which has launched many of the attacks on oil facilities the past year in its quest for greater control of oil resources, said later Friday it was planning more assaults.

MEND’s self-described public representative known as Jomo Gbomo said in an e-mail response to Dow Jones Newswires that he could “confirm that we are planning attacks in the delta.”

“Timing of these attacks I can’t reveal,” but Gbomo added that it would not fall within the first week of November timeframe given by the U.S. consulate.

Gbomo has in the past year sent out detailed reports to reporters after MEND launched attacks and abducted foreign oil workers.

The accounts, along with threats of future attacks that later occurred and Gbomo’s knowledge of the movement of s abducted oil workers, have supported Gbomo’s claim to be close to MEND’s leadership.

PAST ATTACKS, POLITICAL PRIMARIES

Oil pipelines and pumping stations run by Shell, the biggest international oil company in Nigeria, have borne the brunt of militant attacks in the past year.

The assaults, which have been accompanied by at least 20 separate abductions of foreign oil workers, have shut-in least 500,000 b/d of oil production at any given time since February. Nigeria produces between 2.2 million and 2.4 million b/d.

Shell said through a spokeswoman that the safety of its employees are the company’s top priority.

Chevron Corp. (CVX), and Total SA (TOT), which have operations in Nigeria, weren’t available to comment. The other major international operator Eni SpA (E) unit Agip SpA declined to comment.

The U.S. warning comes as Nigeria approaches a series of political primaries, in which Nigerians will elect candidates to lead their respective parties ahead of a general election in April.

The primaries will be held at various points over the next several weeks and are expected to lead to jostling for power that typically accompanies the electoral process in Nigeria, said Sebastian Spio-Garbrah, a New York-based African analyst at Eurasia Group.

“Whichever group or groups are involved, the warning is most likely tied to the upcoming primaries,” Spio-Garbrah said.

Friday’s warning also comes as Nigeria nears the one-year mark in the most recent period of unrest in the country’s oil-rich and historically volatile Niger Delta, where many of the area’s 20 million or so people live in abject poverty.

MEND began attacking oil facilities of international oil companies, like Shell, late last year in a renewed effort to procure greater control of oil resources and to get two of its political leaders released from jail.

MEND has demanded the release of Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, a prominent militant leader who was jailed in 2005 on treason charges for taking up arms and calling for autonomy for southern Nigerians.

All foreign oil workers abducted over the past year have been released after ransom payments have been paid, although one abducted oil worker from Nigeria was shot and killed recently after an exchange of gunfire between militants and the military.

Violence in the delta stems from endemic poverty and a widespread lack of educational and job opportunities, especially among youths, despite years of wealth that has been accumulated from the region’s oil resources since independence from the U.K. in 1960.

Many locals also resent oil companies for not doing enough to clean-up oil spills and blame much of the national and state political leadership for corruption and poor governance.

-By Spencer Swartz, Dow Jones Newswires; +44 (0)207 842 9357; [email protected] (with additional reporting by Sally Jones in London and Vincent Nwanma in Lagos and Kenneth Maxwell in Rome)

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

11-03-06 1205ET

Copyright (c) 2006 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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