- The Washington Times - Friday, July 6, 2007

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria (AP) — Kidnappers snatched a 3-year-old British girl as she was being taken to school yesterday in Nigeria’s lawless southern oil region, officials said.

Several attackers smashed a window on the vehicle as it sat in heavy morning traffic in the southern city of Port Harcourt and grabbed the girl, an official at the British Embassy said on the condition of anonymity because foreign service rules prevent officials from speaking for attribution.

He said the girl’s father was a Briton working in Port Harcourt, but gave no further details on the parents.

In London, Britain’s Foreign Office called for the “immediate safe release” of the girl, whom it identified as Margaret Hill.

“We do not know who took her. We are in contact with her parents and are providing assistance,” a spokesman said on the condition of anonymity in line with government policy.

Nigerian security forces were investigating the case, said Rivers state police spokeswoman Irejua Barasua.

Criminal kidnappings have become common in the region. More than a dozen foreigners are in captivity and more than 200 have been taken since the end of 2005.

The targeting of women and children is uncommon, with attackers generally focusing on male employees of large, international companies that are presumed to have money for ransom payments.

Yesterday’s seizure was the first known recent kidnapping of a foreign child in the Niger Delta, oil industry officials said. Two other children, including one of a prominent politician, were taken this year. Both were released unharmed within days.

Hostages are generally released unharmed after a ransom is paid — often by state governments that control huge, unregulated security slush funds, according to industry officials. At least two hostages have been killed in rescue attempts.

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