Gunmen opened fire on a group of vehicles traveling through southeast Nigeria on Tuesday, killing four people, including two U.S. consulate employees and two local police officers.
Tochukwu Ikenga, a police spokesman in the Nigerian state of Anambra, announced that the attack took place along a major road in the Ogbaru local government. He said the attackers murdered two Police Mobile Force operatives in the convoy and the two U.S. consulate staff members and set fire to the victims and their vehicles. He clarified that no U.S. citizens were in the convoy.
The convoy consisted of two vehicles carrying nine Nigerian nationals: five employees of the U.S. Mission to Nigeria and four members of the Nigerian police force.
Ikenga said security forces responded to the scene of the attack, but not before the attackers abducted the two additional Nigerian police officers and one of the drivers. The status of the other two diplomatic employees in the convoy was not immediately clear.
“U.S. Mission personnel are working urgently with Nigerian counterparts to ascertain the location and condition of the members of the convoy who are unaccounted for,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on Wednesday. “We condemn in the strongest terms this attack. We will work closely with our Nigerian law enforcement colleagues in seeking to bring those responsible to justice.”
It is not immediately clear who is responsible for the attack and kidnapping and neither Ikenga nor Blinken named potential suspects in their statements.
Blinken said the convoy was traveling through Anambra on Tuesday in advance of a planned visit by U.S. Mission personnel to a U.S.-funded flood response project in the Nigerian state.
“The United States has no greater priority than the safety and security of our personnel,” Blinken added. “We express our heartfelt condolences to the families of those killed in the attack, and pledge to do everything possible to safely recover those who remain missing. We deeply value our relationship with our Locally Employed Staff and our partnership with Nigeria.”
Security Conditions in Nigeria
The U.S. State Department currently advises citizens to reconsider travel to Nigeria due to crime, terrorism, civil unrest, kidnapping, and maritime crime.
Nigeria’s southeast has become an epicenter for separatist violence and kidnappings. In August of last year, gunmen kidnapped four Catholic nuns off a highway in Nigeria’s southeast Imo state, which borders Anambra to the south. The nuns were released two days later and were unharmed.
Authorities have attributed recent attacks in the area to a separatist group known as the Indigenous People of Biafra (IBOP). IBOP has repeatedly denied culpability for the violence.
IBOP is leading a campaign for the region to secede from Nigeria and restore the Republic of Biafra—a proposed state that had previously tried to break away from Nigeria. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has rejected the calls for a referendum, insisting that the unity of Africa’s most populous country—and the continent’s largest economy—is not negotiable.
Gunmen killed at least 50 people in a pair of attacks in north-central Nigeria in April.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.