LAGOS — Nigerian militants warned on Thursday of attacks on any helicopters being used by the oil industry to transport soldiers in the Niger Delta, a day after a helicopter travelling to an oil facility was hit by gunfire.
The Sikorsky 76 was flying between the Ogbainbiri and Tebidaba oil flow stations operated by Italian energy firm Agip when it was shot at on Wednesday, wounding one passenger. The aircraft later landed safely back at its base.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the main militant group in the region, did not claim direct responsibility for the attack but said in an emailed statement that it should act as a warning.
“The attack on a civilian helicopter in Bayelsa state should be a warning to the oil industry that its helicopters used in moving soldiers to oppress civilian protesters in oil communities have become legitimate targets,” the group said.
Oil companies generally do not use civilian helicopters to transport military personnel in the Niger Delta and there was no evidence to suggest soldiers had been on the aircraft targeted on Wednesday.
MEND says it is fighting for a fairer share of the natural wealth in the Niger Delta, a region where many villages remain mired in poverty despite five decades of oil extraction.
But the unrest is about criminal profit as well as political struggle, with some armed gangs engaged in a lucrative trade in stolen oil and carrying out frequent kidnappings for ransom.
MEND said the Nigerian military had used gunboats to attack one of its minor camps around the Ke River area of Rivers state on Thursday, an area close to the ocean and known to have harboured criminal gangs and militant factions in the past.
It said the attack was repelled and six soldiers killed.
The military denied there had been any such fighting.
“Throughout our area of responsibility there have not been any clashes for the past week,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Sagir Musa, spokesman for the military taskforce in Rivers state.
“We do not even have gunboats in that area,” he said.