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Arizona Daily Sun: Gunmen attack Nigerian oil installation

Friday, December 8, 2006 10:19 AM CST

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Gunmen attacked a southern Nigerian oil export terminal belonging to a subsidiary of Italy’s Eni SpA early Thursday, taking three Italians and a Lebanese hostage and killing another person, officials said.

Bayelsa state Police Commissioner Hafiz Ringim confirmed the attack just before dawn on the Agip oil export station, which exports some 200,000 barrels of oil daily from the town of Brass.

Eni and Italy’s Foreign Ministry said three Italians and a Lebanese were kidnapped. Another Lebanese worker was wounded in the firefight, the ministry said.

“The attackers were wearing camouflage and came in about seven boats,” Ringim said. “They burnt some vehicles and killed one person.”

The identity of the dead man was not immediately clear, although it appeared he was a bystander rather than one of the attackers or an Agip employee, Ringim said.

Several residents of Brass said the gunmen shot and killed a youth who was among a group of locals trying to stop the attack.

The assailants then burned all the boats anchored in the Brass river as they escaped, said Soyuyo Timipre, a resident who spoke by phone from the town on Nigeria’s Atlantic coast.

Agip officials said oil exports were not affected.

The Italian Foreign Ministry said they had been in contact with the Nigerian authorities and hoped the captives “could soon be freed without undertaking any action that could put them in danger of getting hurt.”

Such attacks — common in Nigeria’s oil-rich southern delta — usually aim to take foreign hostages who can be traded for ransom or political influence.

Since the beginning of 2006, militant groups have attacked pipelines and taken workers hostage in violence that has cut crude output by about 25 percent in Africa’s largest oil producer. The West African country would normally expect to produce about 2.5 million barrels daily.

The unrest in Nigeria has contributed to generally high oil prices. The market Thursday was also affected by U.S. government data showing declines in domestic inventories of crude oil, gasoline and heating oil and by uncertainty ahead of an OPEC meeting next week.

Attacks on terminals like the Brass station have the potential to significantly affect exports. Many of the Niger delta attacks have been on smaller pumping stations, which gather crude from wells to send to export terminals.

An attack on Royal Dutch Shell PLC’s Forcados export terminal earlier this year shut down exports of more than 450,000 barrels day.

Civilian protesters have also taken over oil facilities to protest a lack of jobs and development. Many of the militants say their attacks and kidnappings are a protest on behalf of a region that has seen little improvement from the oil revenue it produces, but analysts say a recent series of kidnappings is motivated more by commercial gain. Around 70 foreigners have been abducted so far this year.

Most oil workers kidnapped over the past year have been safely released, but one British hostage was killed last month during a rescue attempt and scores of Nigerians have been killed in militant operations.

Analysts have said that many of the militant groups are linked to local politicians and suggested that recent attacks may be tied to the ruling party’s primaries later this month.

Associated Press writers Maria Sanminiatelli in Rome and William Nsoyoh, in Yenagoa, Nigeria, contributed to this report.

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