Feb 25, 2006
Saudi-born Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda group has claimed responsibility for an attack on a major Saudi oil facility at Abqaiq, the group said in an Internet statement.
At least two cars exploded at the facility on Saturday when security forces fired on suicide bombers trying to storm the plant, officials said.
The statement, posted by the al Qaeda group in the Peninsula on a website often used by militant groups, said two of its members carried out the suicide operation, but gave no details.
"With grace from God alone, hero mujahideen from the squadron of Sheikh Osama bin Laden succeeded…in penetrating a plant for refining oil and gas in the town of Abqaiq in the eastern part of the peninsula, and then allowed two car bombs in driven by two martyrdom seekers," it said.
The statement added: "These plants help in stealing the Muslims’ wealth of oil."
Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said oil and gas output was unaffected by the "terrorist attempt" – the first direct strike on a Saudi oil target since al Qaeda militants launched attacks aimed at toppling Saudi Arabia’s pro-Western monarchy in 2003.
"Security forces foiled an attempted suicide attack at the Abqaiq refinery using at least two cars," an official said.
The terrorist group said it would give further details of the operation and those who carried it out at a later stage.
It said the operation was within the framework of efforts by al Qaeda to prevent the theft of Muslims’ wealth by "crusaders and Jews" and to force "infidels" out of the peninsula.
The authenticity of the statement could not be verified.
Oil prices jumped $US2 a barrel on news of the attack, which came a year after Saudi-born Osama bin Laden urged his supporters to hit Gulf oil targets.
Saudi security adviser Nawaf Obaid said security forces fired on three cars packed with explosives as they rammed the outer gates of the Abqaiq facility, 1.5 kilometres from the main entrance.
"Three cars rammed the first of the three sets of gates protecting Abqaiq and when security shot at them all three cars exploded," Obaid said.
Dubai-based television station Al-Arabiya said the attackers had been killed. It added the cars they used had the logo of Saudi state-owned oil company Aramco.
Oil minister Naimi, quoted by the Saudi Press Agency, said a small fire was quickly brought under control after the incident.
Most Saudi oil is exported from the Gulf via the huge producing, pumping and processing facility at Abqaiq, also known locally as Baqiq, in the mainly Shi’ite Eastern Province.
The attack was the first major strike by militants in Saudi Arabia since suicide bombers tried to storm the Interior Ministry in Riyadh in December 2004.
The prospect of a direct attack on Saudi crude facilities has been a doomsday scenario for oil consumer nations heavily reliant on Saudi oil. The kingdom accounts for around a sixth of the world’s oil exports, supplying 7.5 million barrels a day.
Former Middle East CIA field officer Robert Baer has described Abqaiq as "the most vulnerable point and most spectacular target in the Saudi oil system."
Abqaiq handles crude pumped from the giant Ghawar field and ships it off to terminals Ras Tanura – the world’s biggest offshore oil loading facility – and Juaymah. It also pumps oil westwards across the kingdom to Red Sea export terminals.
"It’s not clear what damage there is but Abqaiq is the world’s most important oil facility," said Gary Ross, CEO at PIRA Energy consultancy in New York.
"This just emphasises fears over global oil supply security when we’re already facing major ongoing risks in Nigeria, Iran and Iraq."
Officials say around 144 foreigners and Saudis, including security forces, and 120 militants have died in militant attacks and clashes with police since May 2003, when al Qaeda suicide bombers struck at three Western housing compounds in Riyadh.
The next year militants bombed a Saudi security building in the capital, killed Western engineers in the Red Sea city of Yanbu, and attacked oil company and housing compounds in the Gulf city of Khobar.
Saudi officials say they have killed the most dangerous al Qaeda leaders in the country and broken the back of their insurgency, but that al Qaeda will remain a threat in the kingdom for years.
"There had been concern that even though their capabilities had diminished they still had the intent to launch attacks in the kingdom," a US counter-terrorism official said.