Al Qaeda targets US oil supplies
Analysts say the Saudi attack could be a new tactic aimed at slowing the US economy.
JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA
In two deadly attacks here in the past month, analysts see Al Qaeda-linked groups adopting new tactics and targets - encouraging self-organizing cells to hit soft targets in an effort to drive away Western oil workers, damage the Saudi petroleum industry, and slow the US economy.Skip to next paragraph
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Despite the weekend attack in Saudi Arabia's oil-rich eastern province in which 22 people were killed, oil operations continued uninterrupted Monday amid heightened security.
Oil prices hit 20-year highs of $41.85 per barrel in May but eased last week after Saudi Arabia pledged to increase production and urged OPEC to do the same. Oil markets, closed Monday, are expected to experience a slight spike because of the Khobar attacks. Saudi Arabia is the world's No. 1 oil producer and provides for more than 10 percent of worldwide consumption.
"Hurting the US economy is a longtime Al Qaeda goal and is one of the reasons the World Trade Center in New York was targeted. They're now striking these oil- related sites in Saudi Arabia in an attempt to keep oil prices high and hurt the US economy," says Saud al-Sarhan, a Saudi writer and researcher who follows Al Qaeda closely.
A statement posted on the Internet and signed by the Saudi Al Qaeda leader, Abdul-Aziz al-Miqrin, claimed responsibility for the Khobar attack.
"Our heroic fighters were able, by the grace of God, to raid the locations of the occupying American oil companies ... which are plundering the Muslims' resources," it said. Mr. Miqrin also criticized the Saudi government for "supplying the United States with oil for the cheapest prices, according to their master's wish, so that their economy does not collapse." A Westerner killed during the operation was dragged though the streets, the statement said.
In a 25-hour standoff with police Saturday in Khobar, a group of armed men attacked an office building housing major oil companies, an Arab Petroleum Investment Corporation compound, and a compound housing oil company executives and employees. The militants killed four Saudis, an American, and workers from Asia, Africa, and Europe before three of them escaped and one was captured.
The attack in Khobar was an attempt to create another exodus of foreign workers, like the one following the Yanbu attack May 1. A group of armed young men entered the offices of ABB Lummus killing six Westerners and a Saudi. All 90 employees working on a refinery project jointly-owned by Saudi petrochemical firm Sabic and Exxon-Mobil chose to leave the country with their families.
But oil industry analysts say the Khobar attack would not have the same effect. National Saudi oil company Saudi Aramco has been through 70 years of wars and demonstrations and unrest, says Hassan al-Husseini, an oil analyst and former senior planning consultant at Aramco. "Very few people, if any will quit. A few wild-eyed fundamentalists are not going to push this war-hardened workforce away." The company has not shut down its operations for even one day since the 1950s, Mr. Husseini says.