Nigeria: militants hijack merchant ship, demand freeing activist

 Nnamdi Kanu, director of the banned Radio Biafra, was detained by secret police on 17 October and accused of terrorism. Photograph: AP Photo/AP
Nnamdi Kanu, director of the banned Radio Biafra, was detained by secret police on 17 October and accused of terrorism. Photograph: AP Photo/AP

Nigerian militants have hijacked a merchant ship and threatened to blow it up with its foreign crew if authorities do not release a detained leader agitating for a breakaway state of Biafra, according to officers in the military.

The vessel – which has not been identified – was hijacked on Friday and the navy is pursuing it, the officers said.

The hijackers have given the government 31 days to free Nnamdi Kanu, the director of the banned Radio Biafra, who was detained by secret police on 17 October and accused of terrorism.

The ultimatum was given at the weekend by a militant identified by the nom de guerre of Gen Ben. A leader of a Biafran separatist movement, Uchena Madu, said Ben was not a separatist but “some Niger Delta militants have shown interest in working with us”.

The hijacking indicates the separatists could be working with Niger Delta militants blamed for recent bombings of oil pipelines in the oil-rich south, escalating conflict in a country already burdened by Boko Haram’s deadly Islamist uprising in the north-east and violent ethno-religious confrontations between farmers and herders in central Nigeria.

Africa’s biggest economy and oil producer has also been affected by plummeting petroleum prices.

Nigeria’s Igbo people prosecuted a civil war to create a separate state of Biafra in the south-east that killed a million people in the 1960s. Many Igbos claim they still suffer discrimination.

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