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San Diego Union Tribune: Car bomb explodes outside state government offices in Nigeria’s oil region

By Dan Udoh
8:50 a.m. December 23, 2006

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria – A car bomb exploded outside a state government office in Nigeria’s southern oil hub Saturday, soon after the military reported an overnight bombing of a water pipeline leading into a refinery.

The blast at the office building in Port Harcourt was the first targeting of a government installation by a militant group that has frequently kidnapped foreign oil workers and occupied pumping stations run by multinational companies.
The two bombings came at the end of a week of attacks against petroleum companies in Africa’s largest oil-producing nation. Militant groups say people in the oil-rich Niger River delta aren’t benefiting enough from the wealth.

Going off at midday, the car bomb split the vehicle in two and demolished part of a fence surrounding a building that houses the office of the Rivers State governor and other government offices. Deputy Governor Gabriel Tony, who was inside at the time, said no one was injured.

The explosion came less than an hour after one of the region’s militant groups, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, said in an e-mail to The Associated Press that it had placed two car bombs in the region and would detonate them “shortly.”

The group, known as MEND, claimed responsibility for the Port Harcourt bombing in a later e-mail.

The e-mail, from an address used by MEND, said state governors in the Niger delta and other political figures “have acted against the interest of the people of the Niger delta, sabotaging all efforts at resource control for selfish reasons.”

“We will henceforth carry out attacks against these traitors in addition to attacks against oil installations,” it said.

In the past, MEND has attacked only oil installations and personnel in its campaign to pressure the government into concessions by hurting oil production. Nigeria has seen its daily oil production of 2.5 million barrels drop by a quarter this year because of violence by various groups.

Earlier Saturday, Brig. Gen. Alfred Ilogho said dynamite was set off under a water pipe leading to a refinery in the town of Warri, but the blast did not affect production at the government-owned refinery.

Residents in the area reported hearing a large explosion around midnight.

It was a violent week in the oil region.

On Monday, MEND claimed responsibility for two car bombs at oil company compounds in Port Harcourt. The group also still holds four foreign oil workers hostage demanding the release of jailed militants.

On Thursday, armed men raided a Total SA pumping station in an attack that killed three police guards, while another group took over an Eni SpA facility. The companies shut down production at both facilities, about 80,000 barrels per day in all.

Royal Dutch Shell PLC and several oil service companies began evacuating all dependents of foreign employees from the delta region this week, citing the worsening security situation after Monday’s car bombs – one of which was set off in a Shell residential complex.
Associated Press writer Katharine Houreld in Lagos, Nigeria, contributed to this report.

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