updated 10/4/2006 12:21:48 PM ET 2006-10-04T16:21:48

Militants freed around 25 kidnapped Nigerian oil workers on Wednesday but seven abducted expatriates were still missing in another part of the Niger Delta after an unprecedented attack on a residential compound.

Heightening security concerns, the U.S. consulate in Nigeria warned that militants may target Bonny Island, a major oil and gas export hub in Africa’s top oil producer.

“This continuation of violence reinforces the need for American citizens to avoid travel to the region whenever possible and maintain a heightened security presence at all times,” the consulate said in a circular.

“There is no indication of when this threat will subside.”

On Tuesday, suspected militants invaded a residential compound for ExxonMobil contractors in Eket, in Akwa Ibom state in the eastern delta, killing two Nigerian security guards and abducting seven foreign workers.

“About 18 armed youths stormed the Eseakpan compound. They kidnapped seven expatriates who were drinking in a bar inside the compound,” a police spokesman in Akwa Ibom said.

Residential compounds safe no longer?
The abducted men were four Britons, one Romanian, one Malaysian and one Indonesian, the spokesman said, adding that no contact had yet been established with the kidnappers.

Security experts working for oil companies in the delta said it was the first time kidnappers had taken expatriates from within a residential compound. Such compounds are usually under tight security due to a history of abductions in the delta.

The experts also said it was worrying this kind of trouble had spread to Akwa Ibom, which had been relatively quiet all year while militants staged a wave of attacks and kidnappings in three oil producing states further west.

The Eket raid came two days after about 70 gunmen attacked a convoy of boats supplying oilfields operated by Royal Dutch Shell in neighboring Rivers state. They killed at least three soldiers and abducted 25 Shell contractors who were all free by Wednesday.

Home to one of world's largest oil exporters
The incidents came as a shock after a relatively quiet September in the delta, which accounts for all crude output from the world’s eighth-biggest exporter.

Bonny Island, in Rivers in the eastern delta, is home to one of the world’s largest natural gas export plants and also ships about 400,000 barrels of oil daily.

A sixth of Nigeria’s production capacity is already shut in following a wave of militant attacks in February.

ExxonMobil has a residential compound of its own in Eket and operates the Qua Iboe Terminal, a major export facility, on the coast of Akwa Ibom. The U.S. major exports about 800,000 barrels per day from Nigeria.

In August, 18 oil workers were kidnapped in eight separate incidents in the delta. All have been freed except for one Nigerian who was killed in a botched attempt to release him.

Supply disruptions from OPEC member Nigeria have contributed to several hikes in world oil prices this year. The latest incidents did not affect output.

Resentment towards oil industry
Violence in the delta is rooted in poverty, corruption and lawlessness. Most inhabitants of the wetlands region almost the size of England have seen few benefits from five decades of oil extraction that has damaged their environment.

Resentment towards the oil industry breeds militancy, but the struggle for control of a lucrative oil smuggling business and the lure of ransoms have also contributed to the violence.

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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