Niger Delta militants attacked two police stations, a luxury hotel and a night club in Nigeria’s oil city Port Harcourt on Tuesday leaving 18 people dead, police said. The New Year’s Day assault came after troops bombed suspected rebel hideouts near the city last weekend and after the collapse of peace talks between militants and the government of Africa’s top oil producer. “The gunmen came into town from different directions and attacked several places,” said Ireju Barasua, a police spokeswoman in Port Harcourt.
Barasua said four police officers were killed at two police stations in the riverside metropolis in the south of Nigeria.
Seven civilians also died in the cross-fire outside the Borokiri police station, and a security guard was killed at the Presidential Hotel when gunmen opened fire on the lobby, Police Commissioner Felix Ogbaudu was quoted as saying by the state news agency.
Several other civilians were wounded by stray bullets near the hotel as they returned from midnight mass, witnesses said. The lobby wall had bullet marks and dozens of empty AK-47 shells were lying on the road outside.
Gunmen also struck the Skippers night club, and police said they killed six of the attackers.
A prominent militia leader in Port Harcourt, Ateke Tom, had been expected to stage a counter-attack in the city after troops bombed his suspected hideouts with helicopter gunships in the creeks around the city last weekend.
Authorities have not provided details on casualties from those raids, but local media have reported that several people were killed.
Violence has driven thousands of foreign oil workers from the Niger Delta since February 2006 when militants launched a new wave of attacks.
They have cut oil exports by a fifth and chased away new investment from Africa’s biggest oil and gas reserves.
There was a lull for about four months after the inauguration of President Umaru Yar’Adua in May, when the new government began tentative peace talks. But militants pulled out and resumed attacks after the arrest of one of their leaders in September.
Several armed groups in the delta demand local control over oil revenues, an end to what they see as neglect of their impoverished communities, compensation from oil companies for pollution, and greater political autonomy.
They have blown up pipelines and oil wells and kidnapped hundreds of foreign workers to press their demands. However, crime and militancy are intertwined in the delta, where armed groups make big money from ransoms, smuggling stolen crude and gun-running, often with the complicity of corrupt government officials. (Additional reporting by Tom Ashby in Lagos, writing by Tom Ashby: Editing by Alison Williams)