American Oil Worker Kidnapped in Nigeria

Gunmen kidnapped an oil-industry worker as he traveled to work Friday in Nigeria's southern oil region, police said.

The man, an American, was snatched from his car shortly after dawn in the oil city of Port Harcourt, Rivers State Police Commissioner Felix Ogbaudu said. U.S. Embassy officials could not immediately confirm the man's nationality, and first reports of citizenship by police have been incorrect in the past.

Some 200 foreigners have been kidnapped this year in the restive southern region where crude is pumped in Africa's biggest oil producer. Militants behind a series of oil-installation attacks spearheaded the hostage takings, launching their latest campaign in late 2005.

But criminal kidnap gangs took up the practice this year, and now the seizure of foreigners, prominent Nigerians and their family members has become widespread in the southern Niger Delta. Hostages are usually released unharmed after a ransom is paid.

This week, six Russian workers from an aluminum plant were released after nearly two months in captivity.

Militant activity has calmed in recent weeks as the new government of President Umaru Yar'Adua released two leaders from the reason imprisoned on treason or corruption charges, appearing to meet a number of the conditions set by the main militant group.

But the group's larger aim, more federally controlled oil funds for their region, remains unmet. The militant activities have cut about one quarter of Nigeria's usual 2.5 million barrel daily output and contributed to a general decline in security in the oil lands.