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US oil executive shot dead in Nigeria

Written by: Staff
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PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria, May 10 (Reuters) A gunman on a motorcycle shot dead a US oil executive in an apparently planned assassination in Nigeria's oil heartland today, authorities said.

Militants who have been waging a five-month-long campaign against the oil industry said they had no hand in the killing of the executive, who worked for Texan oil services company Baker Hughes. A diplomat and oil industry source said it was more likely to be linked to a work-related dispute.

''The American was shot by a man on a motorcycle. The motorcycle pulled up beside him and shot him,'' Samuel Agbetuyi, Rivers State Police Commissioner, told Reuters in the southern city of Port Harcourt, where the attack happened.

A spokesman for Baker Hughes, which drills wells and performs other services for major oil companies, confirmed an employee was shot on his way to work today.

''It's a tragic thing. We are still in the information gathering phase,'' said spokesman Gene Shiels.

The executive was being chauffeur-driven through a notoriously violent area of the city when the gunman shot him through the chest, an oil industry source said. The assassin was apparently working in coordination with a car which impeded the American's escape.

In an e-mail response to Reuters, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) denied any involvement in the killing.

MEND has bombed oil facilities, kidnapped several foreign oil workers and recently embarked on a car bombing campaign.

Their attacks have forced multinationals to cut Nigerian oil exports by a quarter, and they threatened this week to carry out more attacks on oil industry targets and individuals.

However, they treated American oil workers well during their kidnappings, and the Port Harcourt killing did not bear any similarity to previous MEND attacks.

STAFF EVACUATED The oil industry source said Baker Hughes had pulled its staff out of Port Harcourt as a security precaution. The company spokesman declined to comment on that.

Port Harcourt is the largest city in the delta, and several oil multinationals have major offices there, including Royal Dutch Shell and Agip. The city suffers from sporadic outbreaks of bloody gang violence and there have been several deadly armed robberies recently.

The attack adds to a trend of rising violent crime in the vast wetlands region, which pumps all of the OPEC member nation's oil.

''It helps to reinforce the gloomy picture in Nigeria. A lot of sub-contractors are worried about working in Port Harcourt now,'' the oil industry source said.

Much of the violence stems from the deep-seated resentment of many inhabitants of the delta, where impoverished villages stand close to multi-billion-dollar oil facilities, who feel cheated out of the riches being pumped from their tribal lands.

Neglect and rampant corruption have eroded trust in government, while communal rivalries and abuses by the military have fuelled the rise of well-armed community militias.

They have taken advantage of the absence of law and order to engage in large-scale theft of crude oil, extortion, blackmail and kidnapping against Western oil companies in Nigeria, who rely on ill-equipped and poorly trained police and military to protect them.

REUTERS PDS PM0107

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