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US Ready to Help Saudi Arabia Defend Oil Facilities


The United States says it is ready to help Saudi Arabia defend its oil facilities against terrorist threats, following a statement by the British navy asking merchant shippers to be on alert for suspicious vessels or activity in the Persian Gulf region. The U.S. Navy is supporting the recommendation as we hear in this report from Meredith Buel in Washington.

Britain's Royal Navy says coalition forces in the Gulf have been deployed to counter a possible threat to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

Officials say this has resulted in stepped-up security at Saudi Arabia's Ras Tanura terminal, the world's largest offshore oil facility.

On the fifth anniversary of the September 11th, 2001 attacks on the United States, a videotaped message from al-Qaida's deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was broadcast.

In the video the terrorist leader warned the Persian Gulf region and Israel would be the group's next targets. He also accused Western powers of stealing what he called Muslim oil.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says the United States is ready to help Saudi Arabia fight threats from terrorist groups.

"There have been calls by al-Qaida to attack Saudi oil facilities in the recent past," he said. "These are not new. You go back in the record you can see these threats previously. We will do everything that we can, if there is a request for assistance, both in general terms or specific terms to assist the Saudi government."

McCormack declined to discuss specific threats to Saudi facilities or whether the United States has received any requests to defend them.

A spokesman for U.S. Navy forces in the Persian Gulf, Commander Kevin Aandahl, told VOA U.S. forces endorse the British recommendation for increased caution in the region.

"We support the recommendation that commercial mariners be especially vigilant while they're transiting the Gulf," he said. "Coalition forces, we're taking prudent precautionary measures and focusing on our bread-and-butter [main] operation, which is maritime security operations in the Gulf, on these possible threats."

Commander Aandahl, at the Navy's regional headquarters in Bahrain, says for security reasons he can not discuss any specific threats or intelligence information.

But he says U.S. ships have not taken any special precautions or launched any extraordinary missions.

The commander says threats against oil facilities in the Gulf are nothing new, but need to be taken seriously because terrorists have tried to attack such infrastructure in the past.

"I can't talk to any specific threat," he said. "But I can say that we just take any and all threats seriously."

Authorities say oil export operations in the Gulf region are currently proceeding normally.

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