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Nigerian Militants Launch New Attacks; Foreigners Kidnapped

Nigerian militants in the oil-rich Niger Delta have launched a new wave of attacks, including the kidnapping of nine foreign oil workers. The militants are threatening total war on the Nigerian military, and have warned all foreigners to leave the area.

The armed militants, traveling in speedboats, seized the nine foreigners on a pipe-laying barge near the Forcados export oil terminal.

The nine, identified as three Americans, a Briton, two Egyptians, two Thais and one Filipino, work for the U.S.-based oil services company, Willbros.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta claimed responsibility for the attack in e-mails sent out to journalists.

They also attacked the oil terminal, operated by Anglo-Dutch giant Royal Dutch Shell, and blew up pipelines in the same area near the city of Warri. They said five soldiers were killed.

This was not confirmed. Military officials did not immediately comment about details of the violence.

A local journalist, Aminu Bello Sahabi, spoke with the militants, and said they were angry at the government for not taking their threats against foreigners seriously.

"They have given them the ultimatum to vacate the area as of yesterday by midnight. So, this morning, I was able to talk with one of the militants. They are stating they want those people to leave the Niger Delta now, because the Nigerian government could not succumb to their demands," he said.

Sahabi says these demands are increasing.

"They are claiming they have property in the Niger Delta, (they want) environmental (security) and other things," he said. " In the totality, militants want to take over the control of the Niger Delta. So, the Nigerian government could not allow this."

He says the militants were also angry about recent military raids against their positions, which they said killed civilians in majority ethnic Ijaw communities.

The group originated from ethnically-based militias backing corrupt politicians, as well as criminal gangs trying to get racket money from oil companies, but it has recently presented itself as a violent populist movement.

They held on to four foreign hostages for 19 days during an earlier wave of attacks this year, before handing them over unharmed, apparently for cash. Oil violence in Africa's biggest exporter, and even threats of it, usually reduce its production and propel world prices higher.