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Page last updated at 12:26 GMT, Monday, 13 July 2009 13:26 UK

Nigeria rebels claim Lagos attack

Mend fighters in the Niger Delta, Nigeria (file image)
Militant action has severely cut Nigeria's oil output

Nigeria's most prominent militant group says it carried out an "unprecedented attack" on an oil tanker facility close to the main commercial city of Lagos.

"The depot and loading tankers moored at the facility are currently on fire," said the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend).

Some officials have confirmed there was an attack but another said it was a fire not caused by the militants.

The attack marks a major escalation in Mend's activities.

Its previous attacks have mostly been much further to the south-east, in Rivers and Delta States.

Such attacks have severely cut Nigeria's oil output. Production has been cut by a fifth in the last three years partly as a result of violence.

Militant message

In a statement, Mend said that "heavily armed" men had "carried out an unprecedented attack on the Atlas Cove Jetty in Lagos" at 2230 (2130 GMT) on Sunday.

The jetty is the main entry point for ships entering Nigerian waters from the West and for oil tanker loading.

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A reporter for the Reuters news agency has confirmed damage to the pipeline and terminal, which has shut for repairs.

Staff from the state-run oil firm NNPC told the BBC there was a huge explosion, followed by gunfire which lasted for around 30 minutes.

But they say there was no loss of life.

The BBC's Caroline Duffield in Lagos says the timing of the attacks is significant, coming at a time when the government has offered an amnesty to the militants.

She says they are sending a message to the government - that they will continue to use violence at the same time as negotiation.

They hope to put greater pressure on the government to extract greater concessions as part of the amnesty.

They want to show they have the capability to strike anywhere - even Lagos, the country's economic heart, our correspondent says.

The alleged attack follows claims by Mend in recent days that it had blown up several oil pipelines and captured six foreign crew from onboard an oil tanker.

Release imminent?

The government recently offered an amnesty to members of any militant group which laid down its weapons - including Mend leader Henry Okah.

He is facing treason and gun-running charges since his arrest in Angola in 2007. His release has been a key demand of Mend militant group.

On Friday, lawyers for Mr Okah said he had accepted the amnesty offer and his lawyers say he is expected to be freed early this week.

But Mr Okah remains in jail while the terms of his release are negotiated.

Lawyer Femi Falana told the AFP news agency that Mr Okah would appear at a hearing later and that it was "most likely" that the attorney general would decide not to pursue the case against him.

The Mend rebels have been fighting the rights of local people in the Niger Delta and for an increased share of Nigeria's vast oil wealth.

In Sunday's statement, the group said the problems facing Nigeria were "nothing to do with militant freedom fighters but with the corrupt political leadership and certain arrogant tribes still living on past glory".

But the government has in the past dismissed Mend as criminals.



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