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Saudi Arabia Steps Up Security at Oil Facilities


Saudi Arabia's oil minister says his country is stepping up security around its petroleum installations, following last month's foiled terrorist attack. In Washington, VOA's Sonja Pace takes a look at the importance and vulnerability of Saudi Arabia's oil installations and the potential impact on world economies if a future terrorist attack should succeed.

Speaking at the OPEC ministers meeting in Vienna, Saudi Oil Minister Ali Naimi said Wednesday his government has tightened security around all its petroleum installations. He said the move was prompted by last month's attempted suicide bombing of the Abqaiq facility - which is the world's largest oil processing plant and handles two-thirds of the Kingdom's overall petroleum output.

A local al-Qaida group quickly claimed responsibility for the Abqaiq attack and warned more would follow.

Speaking to VOA in Washington, Saudi embassy spokesman, Nail al Jubeir said the government obviously takes the threat very seriously.

"This is the lifeblood of the country," he said. "This is the lifeblood of the industrialized world. We take it very seriously. They [the facilities] have been protected. There are various levels of security, various perimeters, high-tech security and if al-Qaida had a chance to go after them in the beginning, they would have."

Saudi-born Osama bin Laden has long sought to overthrow the pro-Western monarchy of his home country and over a year ago released a video calling for attacks on oil facilities as a way to bring down the royal family and cripple Western economies.

Even though the Abqaiq attack was foiled, the incident sent oil prices up two dollars a barrel on world markets and prompted much discussion about the importance and vulnerability of Saudi Arabia's oil installations.

Energy analyst Gal Luft, of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, says market jitters after the Abqaiq incident are no surprise and he warns a successful attack would have devastating economic consequences.

"We are dealing today with an oil market that is extremely tight, Luft said. "There is no spare production capacity, outside of Saudi Arabia and if you have an attack against a Saudi installation that carries two, three, four, five or six million barrels a day, that means the only way the market can equalize itself is through uncontrolled increase in prices, and oil prices could really reach a very high level - way over 100 dollars a barrel."

Saudi authorities have battled Islamic militants for the past several years. In Washington, independent security analyst Vincent Cannistraro tells VOA the government has been quite successful in its efforts.

"We know that the al-Qaida cell that carried this out is really a very inexperienced cell," Cannistraro said. "Its [the local al-Qaida] leadership in Saudi Arabia has been devastated over the past two years. There has been a succession of new heads of al-Qaida in Saudi Arabia as previous ones have either been killed or captured. So, there are a lot of inexperienced people in the organization. Now, that doesn't make them less zealous or less intent on carrying out violent activities, but it does make them less capable of doing it."

Cannistraro says he has no doubt militants will continue to try to strike Saudi oil installations.

Saudi embassy spokesman Nail al Jubeir agrees that there is no shortage of what he calls "fanatics" willing to try.

"The terrorists' objective is to be able to crack security once and that'll do the damage. We can't afford that," he said.

Al Jubeir said he could not provide details of just what new security measures are being put in place. But in Vienna, Saudi oil minister Ali Naimi is quoted as saying that deploying surface to air missiles to guard against any possible attacks by air is part of the strategy.