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Gunmen Seize Italian Oil Workers in Nigeria

Nigerian security forces are trying to make contact with gunmen who seized three Italian oil workers in the Niger Delta early Thursday. For VOA, Gilbert da Costa reports that the attack is the latest in a series and again exposes the vulnerability of the Nigerian oil industry.

Security officials are hopeful the Italian oil workers will be released as soon as contact is made with the armed attackers.

Gunmen, reportedly in seven speed boats, raided an Agip export facility in Bayelsa state, kidnapping the Italians and killing a local youth.

Joshua Benamasia, who heads the Bayelsa state-sponsored vigilante group which monitors attacks on the oil industry, says the attackers came from neighboring Rivers state.

"The attack was on the Agip terminal in Brass and from what we gathered, the people came in from Rivers state and the hostages were taken back to Rivers area," he said. "Right now, we are working on trying to establish contact to know which group or which people took the hostages and to see how we can reach out to them and effect their release."

Kidnappings for ransom are common in the Niger Delta. Militant groups claiming a greater share of the region's oil wealth have been blamed for the recurring violence.

A British oil worker was killed last month during a rescue assault by Nigerian forces. A Nigerian employee was killed in another botched attempt to release hostages.

Benamasia says the military is having difficulties in dealing with the insurgency because they lack what he called the supernatural powers that the mostly ethnic Ijaw militants possess.

"I am talking about the supernatural. If not for the supernatural, do you think they [militants] would be able to do anything with the military? They [military] have gun boats; they have everything, so why can't they forestall such attempts?" he asked. "When I say supernatural, you know, the black man's power, Africanization of African power."

Nigeria, the world's eighth largest exporter of crude oil has been losing more than 500,000 barrels per day, representing 20 percent of its total output, since February, due to the violence.