Nigerian security forces say they have rescued two foreign oil workers kidnapped in the volatile Niger Delta. Their brief abduction followed threats by a militant separatist group against British citizens, after a local state governor was arrested in London.
The head of the military task force in Nigeria's southern Niger Delta, Brigadier-General Elias Zamani, said that two men, abducted by local militants late Wednesday, had been freed.
Nigerian federal troops had earlier claimed to have discovered the hideout of the group responsible for the kidnapping in a village not far from where the abduction took place.
The two oil workers, an Irishman and a Briton, were abducted from a bar in the Niger Delta city of Warri. Military officials said security forces fired shots at the kidnappers, killing the driver of a van used to bring the men to the waterfront.
The militants fled by boat into the delta's complicated system of creeks and mangrove forests.
Officials at the U.S. embassy in Abuja could not confirm earlier reports that had identified one of the kidnapped workers as an American citizen. And Nigerian army officials said there may initially have been three captives, with one possibly having escaped during the gun battle.
The incident comes as a leader of the militant separatist group known as the Ijaw Youth Council is quoted in media reports warning that British oil workers could be targeted in revenge for the arrest of a local governor in London.
Police in London charged Bayelsa state governor Diepreye Alameiyeseigha with money laundering Wednesday, after his initial arrest several weeks ago. He pleaded innocent to the charges.
The secretary-general of the Ijaw Youth Council, Miadiye Kuromiema, denied that the organization has issued any threats following these developments, even though it seeks better living conditions for impoverished people living in oil-rich areas.
"We are pursuing a civil protest here, and nobody for any reason should threaten any person who is legitimately pursuing his business, whether he is a national, whether his is of another ethnic group, or whether he is an opponent to our aspirations or not," he said.
But Mr. Kuromiema said he could not speak for militants who are not part of his organization.
"There are people who are at the fringes of this protest who are deeply passionate about what is happening and may want to take their own course," he explained.
Last week, fighters from another militant separatist group attacked and shut down an oil platform owned by U.S.-based oil giant Chevron near the delta's main city Port Harcourt. The group was protesting the arrest of its leader by Nigerian authorities.
The incident led to a standoff lasting several days, with separatists threatening to begin blowing up oil installations. But they later declared a cease-fire.