PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria, Apr 20 (Reuters) Nigerian militants killed two civilians in a car bomb attack on an army barracks in the southern city of Port Harcourt, extending a four-month onslaught against the world's eighth-largest oil exporter.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), whose attacks have cut Nigerian oil exports by a quarter, said in an email they detonated 30 kg of dynamite using a cellular telephone yesterday night.
The use of the car bomb was unusual, and the militants threatened to stage more such attacks on the military, oil installations and individuals.
''There was an explosion at 7.30 yesterday which resulted in the death of two persons and six people were injured,'' Brigadier General Samuel Salihu told a news conference today.
Another military spokesman said there were no military personnel among the casualties.
MEND, which has demanded more local autonomy over the Niger Delta's oil wealth, said the bomb had been concealed in a Mercedes Benz. The explosion blew the car 20 metres from its original site, on the side of a road in the Bori Camp barracks.
MEND said the attack was ''symbolic rather than strategic'' and served as a warning that the military was unable to protect itself, let alone workers at oilfields dotted around the vast maze of mangrove-lined creeks in Nigeria's far south.
The group has waged a four-month campaign of sabotage and kidnapping against Africa's top oil producer, forcing companies to cut production by 550,000 barrels per day and helping drive world oil prices to record highs.
It released the last of its Western oil worker hostages in March after holding two Americans and a Briton for five weeks.
MORE ATTACKS The militants have warned all oil workers to leave the delta and vowed to halt exports completely.
A little-known group that first appeared in December, MEND is a coalition of militias which the government has branded ''rascals'' and accused of involvement in a lucrative trade in stolen crude oil.
But its demands -- which also include the release of two jailed leaders from the region and compensation for oil spills -- are shared by many activists in the area, where most people live in poverty despite the riches being pumped from their land.
''In the coming weeks, we will carry out similar attacks against relevant oil industry targets and individuals,'' MEND said in an email.
Prominent leaders of the Ijaw tribe, who have taken advantage of the crisis to make separate demands, would also be targeted in these attacks, MEND added.
President Olusegun Obasanjo tried to address some of the grievances this week by promising to build a 1.8 billion dollar highway across the delta, a region almost the size of England, and create 20,000 jobs.
MEND rejected the initiative and has insisted on its demand for local control of the delta's oil resources.
Analysts link the violence to uncertainty ahead of next year's presidential election. Different tribal and regional groups believe it's their turn to run multi-ethnic Nigeria after eight years of Obasanjo, a Yoruba from the southwest.
These hopefuls have been infuriated by a powerful campaign to amend the constitution to allow Obasanjo to stay in power for a third consecutive term.
REUTERS SHB RAI1912