January 24, 2006

Nine killed in Nigeria oil company attack

By Austin Ekeinde

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria (Reuters) - Eight policemen and one
civilian were killed on Tuesday when an armed gang in military
fatigues attacked the offices of Italian oil company Agip in
Nigeria and robbed a bank.

It was not clear if the attack in the southern city of Port
Harcourt was by the same group which has kidnapped four foreign
oil workers and crippled a tenth of Nigerian oil output during
a month-long campaign of violence in the world's eighth largest

"An armed gang in military attire attacked the Agip
offices," a security source said.

The group of 20 to 30 men, armed with AK-47 assault rifles,
arrived at the company's compound in two speed boats, engaged
police in a lengthy shootout and robbed a bank on the premises,
he added.

A Reuters eyewitness who arrived at the scene shortly after
the gunfight saw the corpses of eight police and one civilian
being loaded into ambulances. Others were injured.

In Milan, the company confirmed the nine deaths and said in
a statement that it had "temporarily evacuated staff and
contractors from the area of the base affected by the incident
and situation is currently under control."

The raid on Agip, a unit of Italy's ENI, came at a time of
heightened alert in Western multinationals in the Niger Delta,
which pumps almost all of Nigeria's 2.4 million barrels a day.

Militants from the Movement for the Emancipation of the
Niger Delta have attacked two major oil pipelines and abducted
four workers ago from a Royal Dutch Shell platform. Output is
down by 221,000 barrels a day.


Nigerian secret agents detained two government officials
suspected of helping the kidnappers on Monday, raising hopes of
a breakthrough in the case.

Government officials have expressed confidence the hostage
crisis would soon end as negotiations progress on a ransom
payment with a person whom they believe to be a credible
representative of the kidnappers.

However, the militants have said they are not in talks to
release their American, British, Honduran and Bulgarian
captives and denounced the negotiators as bounty hunters.

"The hostages are going nowhere!" the group said in an
email on Tuesday.

An Ijaw activist said the previously unknown movement
contained two different groups: a politicised faction carrying
out the attacks on oil installations and a more commercially
minded gang holding the hostages.

With nine days since its last confirmed raid, the group has
repeated threats to broaden its attacks on oil workers and
installations across the delta. Dozens of people have already
been killed in a campaign which helped pushed world oil prices
to four-month highs last week.

Unions have threatened to withdraw workers from the restive
region if the security situation deteriorates.

The militant group said it was preparing for an assault by
the Nigerian army and had moved the four hostages deeper inside
the delta's maze of mangrove swamps for their own safety.

It reiterated that it would keep the hostages until it wins
the release of two high-profile Ijaw prisoners: militia chief
Mujahid Dukubo-Asari and former Bayelsa state governor Diepreye
Alamieyeseigha, impeached for money laundering last month.

It is also seeking $1.5 billion from Shell to be paid to
delta villages in compensation for oil spills.

(Additional reporting by Tom Ashby and Tume Ahemba in
Lagos, Daniel Flynn in Abuja)