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Gunmen attack Nigerian Oil Hub

Gunmen kidnapped a Lebanese engineer from a construction site in the Nigerian oil hub of Port Harcourt after killing one of his Nigerian colleagues and badly wounding another

Gunmen kidnapped a Lebanese engineer from a construction site in the Nigerian oil hub of Port Harcourt on Monday, killing one of his Nigerian colleagues and badly wounding another, a security source said.

The engineer was working for Homan Engineering, a Lebanese firm which specialises in building roads and bridges for oil facilities, on a project in Port Harcourt when he was seized, the source said.

"A Lebanese was kidnapped by gunmen this morning but our men are on their trail," police spokeswoman Rita Inoma-Abbey said.

She provided no further details.

The security source, who works in the oil industry, said one Nigerian working for Homan had undergone surgery and was in a critical condition while another had died after the shooting.

Homan could not immediately be reached for comment.

Port Harcourt is the main city in the Niger Delta, home to Africa's biggest oil and gas industry where foreign energy firms including Royal Dutch Shell Total and Agip have major operations.

The region has long been racked by insecurity, particularly since militants launched a campaign of sabotage against the oil industry two years ago to push for a greater share of the wealth generated by five decades of oil extraction.

The main militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), said it was not involved in Monday's kidnapping but that it was ready to help secure the release of the Lebanese hostage.

"MEND will assist the victim's employers rescue and return him unharmed by locating and negotiating with his abductors," the group said in a statement.

MEND, which has blown up pipelines and seized foreigners in the past, claims to be fighting for the development of the delta and has tried to distance itself from purely criminal gangs which have taken advantage of the breakdown in law and order.

The group has intervened in hostage takings before.

It said almost two months ago it had rescued two Britons, two South Africans, a Ukrainian and around 20 Nigerians after they were kidnapped from a hijacked oil supply vessel.

The South Africans and Nigerians have been released but the group is still thought to be holding the Britons and Ukrainian.

Security experts say a loose coalition of armed factions operate under the MEND banner. Several hundred foreigners have been seized since early 2006, often by criminal gangs seeking ransom, but most have been released unharmed.

Author: Jo Amey