US citizen kidnapped in Nigeria's oil delta

January 20, 2012 - 1:05 PM

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Assailants kidnapped a U.S. citizen leaving a bank in Nigeria's oil-rich southern delta Friday, the first such attack targeting foreigners in the restive region for several months.

The attack happened in Warri, the capital of Delta state, local police spokesman Charles Muka said. Investigators believe the assailants trailed the man to the bank and waited outside before kidnapping him, Muka said.

Kidnappers later made contact with authorities and demanded a $333,000 ransom, he said.

The attack occurred in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta, where foreign firms have pumped oil out of the country for more than 50 years. Despite the billions flowing into Nigeria's government, many in the delta remain desperately poor, living in polluted waters without access to proper medical care, education or work.

In 2006, militants started a wave of attacks targeting foreign oil companies, including bombing their pipelines, kidnapping their workers and fighting with security forces. That violence waned in 2009 with a government-sponsored amnesty program promising ex-fighters monthly payments and job training. However, few in the delta have seen the promised benefits.

While foreign workers have become harder to target, local kidnapping gangs have begun seizing middle-class Nigerians as well.

Deb MacLean, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria's capital Abuja, said diplomats there were aware of the kidnapping.

"We continue to monitor the situation closely and assist," MacLean said Friday night.

In 2011, there were five reported kidnappings of U.S. citizens in Nigeria, according to a recent U.S. State Department travel warning about the country. The most recent occurred in November when two U.S. citizens and a Mexican were kidnapped from a Chevron Corp. offshore oil field and held for about two weeks, the State Department said.

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Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell contributed to this report.