February 25, 2006

Al Qaeda says it carried out Saudi oil plant attack

By Souhail Karam

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

Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said oil and gas output was
unaffected by Friday's "terrorist attempt" -- the first direct
strike on a Saudi oil target since al Qaeda attacks aimed at
toppling Saudi Arabia's U.S.-allied 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.

The U.S. ambassador in Riyadh praised Saudi security forces
for foiling the attack.

"The Saudi government and Saudi Aramco deserve considerable
credit for what they have done in recent years to enhance the
security of oil facilities throughout the kingdom," James C.
Oberwetter said in a statement on the embassy Web site.

"I know first hand the robust security systems that are in
place there. When they were needed, those systems worked, and
the facility at Abqaiq was fully protected."

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


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.

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

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 explosion slightly injured eight
workers, including some from the Indian subcontinent.

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
that broke out after the explosion was brought under control.

"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.