Nigeria: Gunmen abduct 4 expatriates, kill Nigerian

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Three British nationals and a Colombian were yesterday morning kidnapped at Owaza Junction in Abia State along Aba-Port Harcourt Expressway by yet-to-be identified gunmen. A Nigerian security officer, whose identity was not immediately known, was reportedly killed, while their driver sustained injuries in the attack.

The kidnapped Britons are John Bennet, Kevin Gray and Martin Phillip, while the Columbian was identified as Fabien Sanchez, all contract staff of NetcoDietsmann working at Shell's Afam V1 power plant.

No group has claimed responsibility for the incident, which is coming barely four days after an unidentified group blew up Chevron's Makaraba-Utonana pipeline in Delta State, forcing the company to shut in 20,000 barrels per day of crude oil production.

Sources told THISDAY that the place where they were attacked had a police checkpoint less than 100 metres away and close to the Imo River Bridge where policemen from Abia and Rivers States mount check points on both sides of the bridge.

Spokesman of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Mr. Precious Okolobo, said the four expatriate contract staff were abducted by the armed gang who attacked the convoy that was conveying them to their project site.

He said: “SPDC has received reports of an armed attack on a convoy that was transporting some contract staff (NetcoDietsmann) to work at Afam V1 power plant. The incident occurred this morning, Tuesday, January 12. Regrettably, we understand that the attackers took away four expatriate contract staff. We are concerned for their safety and our thoughts are with them and their families at this difficult time. SPDC is cooperating with the government and contractors and supporting efforts for their safe release.”

Also, police authorities in Rivers State confirmed that the abductees were contractors working for a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell.
Rivers State Police spokeswoman Rita Abbey told the AFP news agency that the victims were ambushed by the gunmen.

“They are Shell contractors who were going to Aba in Abia State,” Abbey said.

She added that police had launched a search in and around the town situated northeast of Port Harcourt.

The AFP reported that the British Foreign Office said it was looking into the report “as a matter of great urgency”.

Attacks on oil installations and abduction of expatriate workers had been the order of the day in the oil-rich Niger Delta. But the region had been relatively calm since most of the militant groups laid down their arms last year following the amnesty offer by the Federal Government.

However, the Niger Delta youths had been expressing concern over the slow progress in implementing the terms of the amnesty.

Industry sources told THISDAY at the weekend that the absence of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, who had been hospitalised in Saudi Arabia for nearly seven weeks, might further heighten tension in the region.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) claimed responsibility for the attack on a major crude oil delivery pipeline in the creeks of Abonema, Rivers State on December 19, 2009. The group said it carried out the attack to protest the prolonged absence of ailing President Yar'Adua from the country, adding that the slow pace of implementation of the post-amnesty programme was unacceptable.