February 24, 2006

Al Qaeda claims responsibility for Saudi attack

By Souhail Karam

ABQAIQ, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - Al Qaeda claimed
responsibility for Friday's attack on a Saudi oil facility at
Abqaiq, when security forces fired at suicide bombers trying to
storm the world's biggest oil processing plant.

Saudi 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.

In a statement posted on a Web site often used by
militants, Saudi-born Osama bin Laden's group said two of its
members carried out the operation.

"With grace from God alone, hero mujahideen from the
squadron of Sheikh Osama bin Laden succeeded today
(Friday)...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.

It said the raid 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.

Oil prices jumped $2 a barrel on news of the attack in the
world's largest oil exporter, which came a year after bin Laden
urged his supporters to hit Gulf oil targets.

In Abqaiq, a guard manning an outer gate of the facility
said security forces were combing the plant in search of any
militants hiding there. "The security situation is still
unstable," said the guard, ushering people away.

Saudi security adviser Nawaf Obaid said security forces
fired on three cars at the outer gates of the Abqaiq facility,
1.5 km (one mile) from the main entrance.


One car was carrying gunmen and two others, packed with
explosives, rammed the gates, he said. All the attackers were
killed. Security sources in Riyadh said four militants and two
security officers died and two other officers were wounded.

Mohammad al-Merri, a relative of one of the officers
killed, said the militants were able to penetrate the first
checkpoint leading to the facility. "They opened fire and
killed two officers after the guards at the second checkpoint
became suspicious of them," he told Reuters in Abqaiq.

Security sources said the blast after the shootout slightly
injured eight workers, including some from the Indian

Dubai-based Al Arabiya television said the attackers used
cars bearing the logo of Saudi state-owned oil company Aramco.

Residents said they heard the blast from about two km (more
than a mile) away, then saw smoke rising from the site.

Naimi, quoted by the Saudi Press Agency, said a small fire
broke out after the explosion but was quickly brought under

It was the first major strike by militants in Saudi Arabia
since suicide bombers tried to storm the Interior Ministry in
Riyadh in December 2004.


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 prospect of an attack on Saudi crude facilities has
deeply worried nations reliant on Saudi oil, which makes up
one-sixth of the world's exports, or 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."

Aramco says it has the tightest security at all its oil
plants, including helicopters, cameras, motion detectors and
thousands of armed guards.

"The security measures at the oil facilities are better
than at the royal palaces," said al Qaeda expert Fares bin

Abqaiq handles crude pumped from the giant Ghawar field and
ships it off to terminals at 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.

"Abqaiq is the world's most important oil facility," said
Gary Ross, CEO at PIRA Energy consultancy in New York. "This
just emphasizes fears over global oil supply security when
we're already facing major ongoing risks in Nigeria, Iran and

Officials say about 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 hit three Western housing compounds in Riyadh.

(Additional reporting by Ghaida Ghantous, Inal Ersan, Miral
Fahmy and Amil Khan in Dubai; Richard Mably and Peg Mackey in
London; Caroline Drees in Washington; Andrew Hammond)