tampabay.com

Militants bomb pipelines

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published May 9, 2007


LAGOS, Nigeria - Militants staged coordinated attacks on three pipelines Tuesday, inflicting the worst damage on Nigeria's vital oil infrastructure in more than a year and signaling an escalation in hostilities that caused world petroleum prices to spike.

The nearly simultaneous bombings followed last week's kidnappings of dozens of foreign oil workers in the restive Niger Delta oil region, where militants say they are trying to shut down Africa's largest crude exporter.

Analysts believe armed groups are stepping up attacks to demonstrate their relevance ahead of the May 29 installation of a new central government after April's disputed elections in which the ruling party was declared a landslide winner. Militants are demanding that the people of the impoverished region get a bigger share of the oil wealth.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the area's biggest militant group, claimed responsibility for the bombings. It promised more attacks before May 29, saying in an e-mail: "We will ... crown it with a final really embarrassing moment for (outgoing President Olusegun) Obasanjo's government."

Oil prices shot up over the intensified violence, with a barrel of Brent crude topping $65.56 in trading, up $1.12.

Attacks in this West African nation often send ripples through oil markets already jittery over instability in the Middle East. Nigeria's light, sweet crude is much cheaper to refine than heavier oils and its proximity to North America cements its importance as the fifth-largest supplier of crude to the United States.

It was not immediately clear how much production was actually cut. Nigeria has total production capacity of 3-million barrels a day, but protests and militant attacks already reduced that by 680, 000 barrels before Tuesday's bombings.

The bombings were the largest attack since a pipeline blast in December 2005 halted nearly a quarter of Nigeria's oil production. That blast was claimed by the same militant group that said it staged the bombings Tuesday.