This Day (Lagos)

25 December 2012

Nigeria: 15 Killed in Potiskum in JTF, Boko Haram Gun Duel

Bauchi — A shootout in North-eastern Nigeria between security forces and members of Boko Haram sect has left about 15 people dead including a local police chief, the Associated Press (AP) has said.

This came as gunmen attacked a supply tug boat in the Niger Delta, kidnapping four foreign sailors in the latest attack that is increasingly becoming dangerous for shippers and oil companies.

Also, an unknown gunman yesterday killed three persons and injured five others in Bigi village, a suburb in Bauchi in what was described as an unprovoked attack.

However, it was gathered that the shootings took place in the city of Potiskum, which has increasingly become the scene of violent attacks by the sect.

Army spokesman, Lt. Eli Lazarus, said the attack began late Sunday night in the city and went on for hours after suspected sect members bombed a local police station and attacked a bank branch.

Lazarus said the dead included a police chief and 14 suspected Boko Haram members. Civilians have been killed in such shoot-outs before and Nigeria's military routinely downplays such casualties.

The identity of those who died could not be independently verified, though Lazarus said those killed had been carrying weapons and ammunition.

Lazarus said authorities only collected four corpses of the suspected sect fighters, as the other 10 "were dragged away by other Boko Haram members in order to hide their identity."

It was unclear the motivation behind the attack, though analysts and local security officials believe Boko Haram has funded some of its attacks through bank robberies in which sect members blow open bank buildings to steal the money inside.

The kidnap of the four foreign sailors, according to Associated Press, happened 40 nautical miles off the coast of Bayelsa State in the Niger Delta on Sunday night, as the gunmen stormed the moving vessel, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said yesterday in a warning to other shippers.

The gunmen seized four workers and later fled, the bureau said.

It added that those remaining onboard safely guided the ship to a nearby harbor, the bureau said.

The bureau did not identify the shipper, nor the sailors.

However, a separate notice to private security contractors working in Nigeria and seen by AP identified the four hostages as foreigners.

In Rome, the Foreign Ministry confirmed the kidnapping, saying the four hostages were members of the crew.

A foreign Ministry official said three of the four were Italian.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to release the information publicly, said he didn't know the nationality of the fourth hostage.

Foreign Minister, Giulio Terzi, was following the case personally, and the ministry was working with Nigerian officials to secure the safe return of the crew, the official said.

The official and the private security notice seen by the AP identified the vessel attacked as the Asso Ventuno, operated by Augusta Offshore SpA, a Naples-based shipping company.

The company's website says itdoes business with oil companies Total SA and Exxon Mobil Corp. in Nigeria.

A spokesman for Nigeria Navy, Commodore Kabir Aliyu, declined to comment on the issue.

Pirate attacks are on the rise in West Africa's Gulf of Guinea, which follows the continent's southward curve from Liberia to Gabon.

Over the last year and a half, piracy therehas escalated from low-level armed robberies to hijackings and cargo thefts.

Last year, London-based Lloyd's Market Association - an umbrella group of insurers - listed Nigeria, neighbouring Benin and nearby waters in the same risk category as Somalia, where two decades of war and anarchy have allowed piracy to flourish.

Analysts believe many of the attackers come from Nigeria, whose lawless waters and often violent oil regionroutinely see foreigners kidnapped for ransom. Increasingly, criminal gangs also have targeted middle and upper-class Nigerians as well.

Sunday's kidnapping is just the latest attack in the region.

On December 17, gunmen kidnapped five Indian sailors on the SPBrussels tanker as it sat about 40 miles (64 kilometers) off the coast of the Niger Delta.

That came the same day gunmen abducted four South Koreans and a Nigerian working for Hyundai Heavy Industries Co. at a construction site in the Brass area of Bayelsa State.

Those workers were later released, though the Indians are still believed to be held by the abductors.

The gunman was said to have to have shot and killed the people at a local food joint.

A reliable security source told THISDAY that "the gunman entered a joint where people were eating and drink, he sat there and ate something and after, he shot three people. Some good Samaritans in the joint attempted to overpower him and arrested him. He used his gun to hit two people that also sustained injuries before he fled."

The source further disclosed that "all the five injured people have been taken to the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University Teaching Hospital for medical treatment.

The state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), DSP Abbas Abdullahi, who confirmed the incident, said, "Yes it had happened but all the people shot did not die they are in the hospital I don't know the number but I saw the signal."

Security operatives have beefed up security in the area to prevent further attack or break down of law and order.

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