* Group warns of attacks on downstream oil sector
* Military calls for increased surveillance
* Security situation already tense ahead of election
(Adds military comment, details from court hearing)
By Nick Tattersall
LAGOS, Jan 18 A Nigerian militant group on
Tuesday threatened attacks on the fuel industry, telling
residents to move away from storage depots and saying it would
also target vehicles transporting petroleum products.
The military urged companies involved in Nigeria's
downstream oil sector -- which includes refiners and fuel
distribution firms -- to increase surveillance of their
infrastructure and fleets following the threat.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND)
warned in a statement emailed to news organisations of a
"ferocious attack" in response to "the handling of the arrest
and detention of our respected brothers".
The group's suspected mastermind, Henry Okah, is being held
in South Africa while Okah's brother Charles and three others
face terrorism and treason charges at home in connection with
car bomb attacks in the capital Abuja last October.
"Advance warning for immediate evacuation is hereby issued
to residents in close proximity to depots storing petroleum
products such as aviation fuel, diesel, kerosene, petrol,
propane gas and engine oil," the MEND statement said.
"Anyone who chooses to ignore this warning does so at their
own peril," it said.
With its state-owned oil refineries in disrepair, Nigeria
relies heavily on imported fuel for its energy needs and a
campaign of attacks on fuel depots could undermine government
efforts to end fuel shortages and create popular resentment.
There has already been violence in some parts of Nigeria
ahead of a presidential election on April 9 and attacks by Niger
Delta militants could be an embarrassment for President Goodluck
Jonathan, the first head of state from the region.
His supporters believe some of the unrest has been
deliberately orchestrated to discredit him.
MEND was for years the main militant group in the Niger
Delta, blowing up pipelines and other installations in Africa's
biggest oil and gas industry in what it said was a struggle for
a greater local share of the natural wealth.
Many of its known commanders accepted the amnesty brokered
by Jonathan a year-and-a-half ago, but splinter factions under
newly emerging leaders have continued to use its name, claiming
responsibility for car bombings in the capital Abuja on Oct. 1.
Not all of its threats have been carried out, but the latest
statement was sent from the same email address as previous
warnings and signed with the same pseudonym, Jomo Gbomo.
"If MEND or whatever is left of it has any iota of sanity,
then it should wait for the law to run its course on its
arrested members," military spokesman Timothy Antigha said.
The Abuja car bombs near an independence day parade last
October killed at least 10 people and marked the group's first
attack of its kind at such a high-profile public event.
Henry Okah was charged shortly afterwards in Johannesburg,
where he lives, with conspiracy and terrorism, which he denies.
His brother Charles, whom the secret service says was one of
the users of the "Jomo Gbomo" pseudonym, and three others were
arrested in Lagos and were last month denied bail.
Charles Okah collapsed in court in Abuja on Tuesday and was
stretchered away, leading the judge to suspend until Jan. 27 a
hearing on whether or not he is fit to stand trial.
Okah's lawyer Ogheneovo Otemu told reporters his client and
the co-accused were being kept in isolated detention.
"All other inmates have time for exercise, they go out to
play, but this particular set of inmates are kept in a solitary
cell and that has affected their state of health," he said.
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(Additional reporting by Samuel Tife in Yenagoa and Camillus
Eboh in Abuja; Editing by Louise Ireland)