Nigerian Group Demands $12m Ransom for Kidnapped Israeli

Ransom demand is highest ever in Nigeria; Israeli employer urges media to downplay coverage.

The Nigerian gang that kidnapped an Israeli employee of a construction company operating in Nigeria has demanded $12 million in ransom - the highest demand of this kind in the country's history, Haaretz revealed Friday.

It is likely that the high ransom bid is due to the Israeli's position as an employee for Gilmor - a company dealing with large-scale projects and major accounts. A Nigerian source emphasized that the ransom request is now being handled by the hostage's employer.

The company's CEO and owner, Eli Golder, on Thursday declined to go into detail, saying only that "the situation is delicate." He called on Israeli media outlets to restrain their coverage of the case, warning that "any publication might hurt the chances of releasing the hostage."

Earlier Thursday, a spokesman for an armed group in the region claimed in an e-mail to Haaretz that the hostage had been located and appears to be diabetic. The spokesman, who signed the e-mail with his nom de guerre, Jomo Gbomo, said that the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) "will only plead with his captors to be humane, but will not intervene to allow the security operatives earn their pay by finding him and negotiating his release."

In a later message to Haaretz, Jomo Gbomo said that due to the hostage's age and his medical condition he was being treated with respect, and that the movement was ready to reconsider its stance on becoming involved in efforts to secure his release.

The e-mail also said that the group has offered to help find and secure the hostage's release, if requested officially by Israel's ambassador. However the foreign ministry, in consultation with the Nigerian ambassador to Israel, decided not to approach the group for help because of concerns that this might undermine relations with Nigeria's federal government.

MEND claimed in the e-mail that its offer to help "has been suspended until the Israel National News (Arutz Sheva) rescinds its description of MEND as a terrorist group and offers an apology. It seems the newspaper is confused about the definition of terrorists from using the word every day from its encounter with Palestinian freedom fighters."

The foreign ministry has ordered its officials not to comment on the case as long as there have been no significant developments.

The hostage's family requested that his name not be published.

Now that it has been established with certainty that the kidnapping is a purely criminal matter, the construction company will have to decide whether and how to pay the ransom. Official government policy in Nigeria is not to pay ransom to kidnappers, but the frequent kidnappings there usually end with the mostly foreign companies in question paying to free their personnel. There have also been previous cases in which corrupt government officials, sometimes in senior positions, had ties to the kidnapping gangs and were themselves involved in abductions.

The Israeli hostage's family is in contact with the company that employs him, and also with the Foreign Ministry, which is monitoring the case through Ambassador Moshe Ram, who is in touch with the relevant Nigerian officials.

The governor of the Nigerian state where the kidnapping took place told Ram that he is personally aggrieved, because the Israeli worker was snatched immediately after a reception the governor held for the ambassador and a delegation of Israeli businessmen.