Lagos (AFP) - Nigeria's secret service said it had arrested a man allegedly behind the abduction of seven contractors in the restive oil-rich south following a spate of hostage-for-ransom crimes.
Three Australian contractors working for Lafarge Cement Company near the southern city of Calabar were kidnapped in June along with two Nigerians, a New Zealander and a South African.
Their Nigerian driver was killed in the attack and a fourth Australian escaped. The kidnapped men were later released with Nigerian police saying at the time that no ransom was paid.
"On 22nd August, 2016, one Samuel Asuquo, a kidnap kingpin was arrested by the Service at Nasarawa Bakoko village in Cross River State," the Department of State Service said in a statement late Sunday.
"Asuquo was the mastermind of the kidnap of three Australian staff of Lafarge Cement Company, for which his gang received ransom of 150 million naira ($476,000/426,000 euros)."
Kidnappings targeting prominent Nigerians and expatriate workers were rife a decade ago until a 2009 government amnesty deal with militants reduced unrest in the region.
On Friday, gunmen kidnapped 15 local oil workers on a road near the oil hub Port Harcourt.
Unrest is growing in Nigeria as it grapples with a recession and inflation running at an 11-year-high of 17.1 per cent.
Along with a spate of kidnappings this year, rebels in the south have renewed their attacks on Nigeria's oil infrastructure, slashing output in their quest for a greater share of the country's oil wealth and political autonomy.