Officials say 7 mine workers kidnapped in Nigeria freed

AP News
Posted: Jun 27, 2016 2:02 AM

WARRI, Nigeria (AP) — Three Australians, two Nigerians, a New Zealander and a South African were in a "safe location" on Monday a day after they were freed from kidnappers who ambushed a police convoy last week in southeastern Nigeria and killed a driver, officials said.

Five of the men had been injured during the kidnapping and two of them remained in a serious but stable condition, their Australian employer Macmahon Holdings said Monday.

Macmahon chief executive Sy van Dyk said all the mine workers were in "a safe location" but did not say where. The injured were receiving special medical attention as arrangements were being made to send them home, he said.

Macmahon has not identified who was injured.

"We look forward to seeing our men return to their families once they are fit to travel," van Dyk told reporters at the company headquarters in Perth, Western Australia state.

"Overnight, all our men had the opportunity to speak to their families which has been a great relief to everyone," he said.

Details remain sketchy about how the men were freed.

Cross Rover state Police Assistant Superintendent Irene Ugho described the release as a "rescue exercise" involving security agencies but provided no further detail.

She said no ransom was paid. Macmahon declined to comment on the question of ransom and the Australian government said it never paid ransom.

"Last night's outcome has been the result of a great team effort," van Dyk said. "In particular, I would like to thank the Nigerian authorities, at both the local and federal level, who have provided us with professional support every step of the way and assisted us with the safe recovery of our men."

Van Dyk also thanked Australian, New Zealand and South African authorities and "a team of specialist international security advisers who have worked with us to help secure this outcome."

Police had identified the kidnapped foreigners as Australians Jack Countentz, Mark Gabberdy and Peter Zoutenbier; New Zealander Jamal Khan, and South African Wayne Smith.

They were snatched at gunpoint along with two Nigerians on Wednesday and forced from their vehicles, which were in a convoy escorted by police near Calabar, the state capital.

It is not known if the perpetrators of the latest kidnapping made a ransom demand.

Kidnapping for ransom is common in Nigeria but generally involves no fatalities. Hostages are returned unharmed once money exchanges hands, though a German construction worker was killed in southwestern Nigeria late last year by gunmen who kidnapped a second German. He was later released.


Associated Press writer Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.