May 22, 2011

Al-Qaeda Threat to Energy Infrastructure

The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI have warned police across the United States that al Qaeda has a "continuing interest" in attacking oil and natural gas targets, a department spokesman said Friday.
The warning issued Thursday came as a result of information seized during the May 2 raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, a U.S. official said.
"We are not aware of indications of any specific or imminent terrorist attack plotting against the oil and natural gas sector overseas or in the United States," Homeland Security spokesman Matthew Chandler said.
"However, in 2010 there was continuing interest by members of al Qaeda in targeting oil tankers and commercial oil infrastructure at sea."
It is "unclear if any further planning has been conducted" since the middle of last year, Chandler said.
CNN obtained a copy of a DHS/FBI intelligence bulletin that says al Qaeda has been interested in "targeting unspecified oil tankers abroad" as a means to "draw the West into an extreme economic crisis" by disrupting a significant portion of the oil supply for several years.
The advisory says al Qaeda wanted to target oil tankers in the Indian and Atlantic oceans, as well as the Arabian Sea, but the terrorist group "was opposed to targeting tankers in coastal areas with large Muslim populations."
The warning says al Qaeda "believed an effective method for sinking oil tankers was to hijack them and then detonate explosives from the inside." The group thought it would be more difficult to stage an attack from outside a ship, as it could "require several explosive charges since tankers are divided internally into multiple watertight sections." . . .

More on the same subject in an essay by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross at Foreign Policy, which traces the evolution of al-Qaeda's attitudes: 
The threat that keeps counterterrorism officials up at night is a massive strike on Saudi oil installations, taking advantage of the limited number of production hubs to knock a significant amount of oil off the world market. The kingdom relies on its Abqaiq facility to process two-thirds of its crude oil, and on two primary terminals (Ras Tanura and Ras al-Ju'aymah) to export its oil to the world. The economic impact of a successful attack on one of these targets would be tremendous: Gal Luft and Anne Korin of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security estimate that, if a terrorist cell hijacked a plane and crashed it into either the Abqaiq or Ras Tanura facilities in a 9/11-style attack, it could "take up to 50% of Saudi oil off the market for at least six months and with it most of the world's spare capacity, sending oil prices through the ceiling."

Former CIA case officer Robert Baer agrees, writing his 2004 book Sleeping with the Devil, "A single jumbo jet with a suicide bomber at the controls, hijacked during takeoff from Dubai and crashed into the heart of Ras Tanura, would be enough to bring the world's oil-addicted economies to their knees, America's along with them." . . .
Bin Laden didn't always see attacks on oil as a part of his fight against the United States. When he first declared war against America in 1996, he specified that oil was not one of al Qaeda's targets because the resource was "a large economical power essential for the soon to be established Islamic state." In other words, when al Qaeda's ultimate goal of re-establishing the caliphate was satisfied, bin Laden thought the new state would benefit economically and strategically from its control over a significant portion of the world's oil supply -- and for that reason, al Qaeda would not jeopardize that future wealth by targeting oil infrastructure.

One early indication of a shift in jihadist thinking on attacking oil facilities was Rashid al-Anzi's The Laws of Targeting Petroleum-Related Interests and a Review of the Laws Pertaining to the Economic Jihad, a treatise posted online in March 2004. Anzi, a noted jihadist thinker, called the widespread availability of oil the factor that "enabled America to dominate the world," and explained how attacks on the oil supply could harm the jihadists' foes. He claimed that rising oil prices hurt industrialized countries more than others, and that they were particularly devastating to the United States, the world's largest consumer.. . .

Recognizing their shared vulnerability, the United States and Saudi Arabia embarked on an unprecedented expansion of their security cooperation beginning in 2008. The two countries are developing an elite security force tasked with protecting this infrastructure from attack. It will eventually have at least 35,000 members, the Associated Press reports.. . .


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