Four kidnapped during attack on Italian oil terminal in Nigeria

Gunmen attacked an oil terminal in southern Nigeria belonging to a subsidiary of Italy's Eni SpA yesterday, killing one person and taking four foreigners hostage. Italy's Foreign Ministry said that three Italians and one Lebanese national were kidnapped.

The identity of the dead man was not immediately clear, although sources said he appeared to have been a bystander. Several residents said the gunmen shot and killed a youth who was among a group of locals from the town of Brass who had tried to stop the attack on the Agip terminal. One Lebanese worker was hurt in the attack.

Agip officials said oil exports were not affected, and the Italian Foreign Ministry said it hoped the captives "could soon be freed without undertaking any action that could put them in danger of getting hurt".

Such attacks usually aim to take hostages for ransom or political influence. This year attacks by militant groups have cut crude output by about 25 per cent in Africa's largest oil producer.

Attacks on terminals like the Brass station can significantly affect exports, although many attacks have been on smaller pumping stations. However, an attack on Royal Dutch Shell's Forcados export terminal this year shut down exports of more than 450,000 barrels a day.

Most oil workers kidnapped over the past year have been safely released, but one British hostage was killed last month during an abortive rescue attempt, and scores of Nigerians have been killed by the militants' operations.

The foreign captives are usually freed after a ransom is paid by the companies and the government, according to security analysts. Yet there have been other exceptions. In 2004, two foreign and five Nigerian subcontractors for Chevron died when their boat was ambushed in the creeks.

Analysts have said that many of the militant groups are linked to local politicians, and suggested that recent attacks may be tied to the ruling party's primaries later this month.

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