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Nigeria rebels in touch with US mariner kidnappers

LAGOS, Nigeria — Rebels in Nigeria’s troubled and oil-rich Niger Delta said Friday they have been contacted by the kidnappers of two U.S. mariners and can help ensure their safety.

Nigerian Navy spokesman Capt. Kabir Aliyu said a rescue operation has been mounted for the men, whom U.S. officials identified as the captain and chief engineer of the U.S.-flagged C-Retriever offshore supply vessel taken in a Wednesday afternoon attack off the coast of Nigeria.

An email reportedly from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta said Friday the Americans were captured by a “heavily armed auxiliary outfit” off the town of Brass in the Gulf of Guinea.

“The Americans will not be handed over for our direct custody but we will have the influence to visit them and ensure that they are well looked after until their subsequent release,” the statement said.

Almost all foreigners kidnapped are released once ransoms are paid. A U.S. civilian kidnapped last year from Nigeria’s oil-refining city of Warri was freed after a week in captivity.

Nigeria’s navy has rescued at least two hostages this year and reported killing several pirates in counterattacks to prevent ship hijackings.

The MEND statement warned such attacks are the result of “unresolved root issues” compounded by the detention of several rebels and “a monumental Niger Delta amnesty fraud,” referring to a 2009 peace agreement in which several MEND leaders were bought off by the government. Some now command security companies protecting the assets of the international oil companies that were the enemy.

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