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Militant group attacks Lagos fuel facility

Financial Times

By Matthew Green in Lagos

Published: July 14 2009 03:00 | Last updated: July 14 2009 03:00

Nigerian militants yesterday used speedboats to attack a key fuel import facility in Lagos, killing eight navy guards and setting the facility ablaze in their first attack on the commercial capital.

The raid, carried out within sight of the city’s main business district, raised fears among security experts that the militants may be planning more spectacular attacks beyond their traditional targets in the creeks of the Niger Delta, home to Africa’s biggest oil industry. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend), the most prominent militant group, said it would continue its campaign of sabotage to increase pressure on the government ahead of possible negotiations over an amnesty offer made last month by Umaru Yar’Adua, the president.

The raid on the Atlas Cove Jetty facility appeared to be designed to achieve maximum shock value by proving that Mend can hit targets in Lagos, home to an estimated 18m people. The largest city in subSaharan Africa has until now been isolated from the conflicts raging in the swamps in the south of the country. The system of pipelines at Atlas Cove is used by tankers to unload fuel and is visible from a bridge in Victoria Island, the heart of Nigeria’s banking industry and home to the Nigerian headquarters of oil companies including Royal Dutch Shell.

Preliminary reports indicated that the militants had killed at least eight naval personnel guarding the facility, including their commander, before firing in the air to scare the remainder away. The militants then wired charges to a fuel pipeline before retreating into their boat to blow it up. The dead navy men were burnt in the resulting fire and the unloading jetty was razed.

Fuel importers warned that the raid on one of Nigeria’s most critical facilities for unloading petrol and diesel – carried out late on Sunday – would cause fuel shortages. The dilapidated state of refineries means Nigeria depends on imports for some 85 per cent of its fuel consumption. “The jetty is burnt beyond repair,” said Wale Tinubu, chief executive of Oando, one of Nigeria’s biggest fuel importers.

The attack followed a series of bombings of pipelines and well-heads belonging to western majors staged by Mend in retaliation for a big offensive launched by the military in mid-May. The violence has forced Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron and Agip to shut down about 300,000 barrels a day of production.

Mr Yar’Adua hopes military pressure and his pledge of a pardon will convince militant leaders and their followers to lay down their weapons. He extended the offer to Henry Okah, a prominent Mend leader who last night was released from jail in Nigeria.

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