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The Wall Street Journal: Militants Strike Nigerian Oil Sites

Associated Press
December 19, 2006 12:16 a.m.

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria — Militants seeking a greater share of oil revenues for their impoverished region detonated two car bombs nearly simultaneously Monday in southern Nigeria, the latest in a series of attacks that have cut crude production in Africa’s oil giant by one quarter.

No casualties were reported at either site.

One blast, at a compound belonging to Italian oil firm Agip, blew out windows of a medical facility and cracked compound walls. Agip said the car bomb was parked outside the compound wall and that no injuries were reported.

Residents of a Shell compound hit by the other blast said several cars caught fire.

Both explosions occurred in high-security residential areas around lunchtime, when most employees would be at work. Witnesses reported chaos at the scene.

“People were running and screaming,” said George Princewill, a motorbike taxi driver. “We didn’t know what was happening. People were running in all different directions.”

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta claimed responsibility in an e-mail to reporters, saying the bombs contained a mix of commercial and military-grade explosives and were triggered by mobile phone. A third attack was aborted because many civilians were nearby, it said.

“That bombing was aborted at the very last minute to prevent loss of innocent lives,” the group said. “We haven’t descended that far into the abyss.”

The group gave warning of the bombing 15 minutes before the two devices detonated almost simultaneously. MEND previously claimed responsibility for a car bombing that killed two people at a military barracks in April, and another that targeted an oil refinery in May. But the simultaneous explosions Monday pointed to a much higher level of coordination than many previous militant groups showed.

MEND’s attacks have already cut one quarter of the normal 2.5 million barrels pumped per day in Africa’s largest producer of crude. Much of the Niger Delta oil-pumping infrastructure is away from highly populated areas like Port Harcourt — making it unlikely Monday’s blast would result in large production cuts. Neither Shell nor Agip officials commented on any production cuts.

Peter Sharwood-Smith, the country operations manager of private security company ArmorGroup Nigeria Ltd., said the attack on residential compounds meant the militants were going after softer targets.

“It is certainly a step up in terms of the violence … although if the (e-mail) is true it seems more of a statement of intent than an attempt to kill people,” he said.

Earlier this month, MEND targeted an export terminal belonging to Agip, taking three Italians and a Lebanese man hostage. The group emailed photos of the hostages to journalists Monday in which the men looked tired and unshaven, but unharmed. MEND said the pictures were taken Wednesday.

The group says the hostages will not be released until Nigerian authorities free Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, a militant leader currently on trial on treason charges, and Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, former governor of a southern state, on trial on money- laundering charges.

More than 70 foreigners have been taken by a variety of groups this year. Although most have been released unharmed after a ransom is paid, a British oil worker was killed in the crossfire between the militants and the navy last month.

MEND has threatened to carry out further bombings and take more hostages until a greater share of federal oil revenues is directed to oil-producing states. Despite the billions of dollars in oil wealth the Delta produces each year, government corruption and mismanagement has left most of the inhabitants in poverty, living alongside polluted creeks with no access to good roads, regular electricity or fresh water.

Many officials, though, consider MEND a criminal gang bent on extorting the petroleum industry or stealing crude oil for illegal resale.

Copyright © 2006 Associated Press

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