3 Americans, 4 Brits Kidnapped In Nigeria

Militants wearing black masks, military fatigues and carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers patrol the creeks of the Niger Delta area of Nigeria, in this Friday, Feb. 24, 2006 file photo.
AP Photo/George Osodi
The U.S. Embassy says three Americans were among oil workers kidnapped in unruly southern Nigeria on Friday.

Nigerian officials said earlier that gunmen had kidnapped six oil workers from a petroleum installation in Nigeria's southern crude-pumping region.

However, Britain's Embassy said four U.K. nationals were also taken in Friday's kidnapping, putting the total number of abductees at no less than seven, if both the U.S. and British reports prove accurate.

The embassy officials both spoke on condition of anonymity, citing standard agency prohibitions against their names appearing in public.

The latest abduction to hit Africa's oil giant took place in southern Bayelsa state, said Joshua Benemesia, a leader of an unarmed, government-funded group that helps provide security in the state.

He said one of the abductees was Indian, but he had no details on the nationalities of the other men working for a Nigerian oil-services company.

On Thursday, five gunmen grabbed a Polish worker heading to his construction project in southern Nigeria and rushed the captive into the lawless oil-rich region's swamps and creeks in a speedboat, officials said.

Security forces were trying to make contact with the hostage takers, who grabbed the man on his way to work in the southern city of Warri on Thursday, said Brig. Gen. Lawrence Ngubane, a military commander in the region.

The kidnappings are the latest in a run of more than 100 seizures of foreign workers this year in the oil-producing Niger Delta, where all of the crude is pumped in Africa's largest producer.

Some 200 foreign workers have been taken since militants stepped up their attacks against the oil companies and government in late 2005, cutting nearly one third of Nigeria's daily crude production capacity and sending oil prices toward historic highs in oversees markets.

The militants say they're fighting for the liberation of two of their leaders imprisoned on corruption and treason charges and more oil revenues for their impoverished lands.

Despite its huge oil reserves and billions of dollars in annual revenue, the vast majority of Nigerians live in poverty, a situation attributed to rampant political corruption.

But in recent months, criminal gangs have taken up the practice of kidnapping foreigners for ransom. Hostages are generally released unharmed after a payment is made to the captors, although two died in the crossfire when security forces intervened.

Nigeria is Africa's biggest oil producer and a top supplier of crude to America.

  • Tucker Reals

    Tucker Reals is the CBSNews.com foreign editor, based at the CBS News London bureau.