Kidnappers release Israeli in Nigeria

Businessman Ehud Avni, from Ra'anana, unharmed; set to return to Israel today; unclear if ransom paid.

state-religion survey 224 (photo credit:)
state-religion survey 224
(photo credit: )
Ehud Avni, 60, the businessman from Ra'anana who was kidnapped on August 26 in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, was released at 2 a.m. Monday at the same spot where he was abducted. According to the Foreign Ministry and the governor of Rivers State Rotimi Amaechi, a ransom was not paid to the abductors. However, an official who had been involved in the negotiations claimed that Gillmor, the Israeli construction company that Avni works for, had in fact paid $12 million to secure his release. "The negotiation was conducted between the abductors and the construction company Ehud Avni works for," said a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry. "The Foreign Ministry and the Israeli Embassy in Abuja, [the capital of Nigeria] were not involved in the negotiation and they have no information regarding the demand or the payment of the $12m. ransom, if there was one," the spokesman continued. Avni's son, Motti, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that the family was "relieved and happy." "We want to see him, to make sure his health is stable. We hope he stops traveling to Nigeria after this experience, but he will have to make that call," Motti added. According to the Foreign Ministry, Avni, who is diabetic, was released in good condition despite the fact that his abductors had not contacted the local police to receive his medication. Avni had been kidnapped from his car at gunpoint shortly after leaving an event at Amaechi's house in honor of Ambassador to Nigeria Moshe Ram. Ram told the Post on Monday that the kidnappers' identity was still unknown. More than 200 foreign workers have been kidnapped in Nigeria's southern oil region during nearly three years of rising violence across the lawless area. The kidnappings were initially spearheaded by militants seeking to force the government to send more oil-industry funds to their impoverished region, but the main political groups suspended their involvement in the seizures when criminal gangs took up the practice. Kidnapping is now a routine practice in the area, mostly focusing on rich Nigerians after international firms boosted security procedures or moved expatriate staff out of the southern Niger Delta. Hostages are generally released unharmed after a ransom is paid, although several have been hurt or killed in botched seizures or rescue attempts. "There are many militant and criminal groups in this area, where many foreign workers of foreign oil and construction companies live. These groups have kidnapped over 200 foreign workers during the past three years as an easy way to make money. In some of the past abductions ransom was paid and in others not. In this case it is still not clear who kidnapped Avni, and I believe ransom was not paid," Ram said. Despite the fact the Israeli business community in Nigeria consists of approximately 900 people, Avni's profit-motivated abduction was the first such incident to involve an Israeli. Earlier this month, security officials had warned Israeli businessmen and community leaders living in West Africa about the danger of Hizbullah attempting to carry out an attack in revenge for the killing of Imad Mughniyeh in February, which Hizbullah attributes to the Mossad. During Avni's captivity, Israeli officials had expressed their concern that the abducted businessman would be sold to Hizbullah if the ransom money were not transferred as soon as possible. This despite governor Amaechi's stated policy of not giving in to the frequent ransom demands made by different groups. "I am glad this story is behind us now," Port Harcourt Police Commissioner Hassan Bala told the Post shortly before meeting with Avni, "even if all the details of this abduction are not clear," he said. AP contributed to this report.