Al Qaeda Threatens To Hit More Saudi Oil Sites

Al Qaeda suicide bombers will attack more Saudi oil facilities, the terror group purportedly threatened Saturday in an Internet statement that claimed responsibility for the foiled attack on the Abqaiq plant in eastern Saudi Arabia.

Two suicide bombers tried to drive cars packed with explosives into Abiqaiq, the world's largest oil processing facility, on Friday afternoon, but security guards opened fire and the vehicles exploded outside the gates, killing the bombers and fatally wounding two guards.

The guards died in the hospital, the Interior Ministry said Saturday in a statement published on the Web site of the official Saudi Press Agency.

Saudi Oil Minister Ali Naimi quickly said the attack "did not affect operations" and that exports continued to flow. But the blast made the price of crude oil jump by more than $2 a barrel on the world markets.

Naimi met U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez in Riyadh on Saturday and assured him the kingdom would "ensure the flow of oil despite the terrorist threats," a Saudi government official said, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

A statement appeared on a militant Web site saying that Friday's attack was "part of a series of operations that Al Qaeda is carrying out against the crusaders and the Jews to stop their plundering of Muslim wealth." It was signed "Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula" — the name of the Saudi branch of the terror network.

The statement did not acknowledge that the attack was foiled. In fact, it claimed that the two "heroic holy warriors" managed to enter Abqaiq.

"There are more like them who are racing toward martyrdom and eager to fight the enemies of god, the Jews, the crusaders and their stooges, the renegade rulers" of Arab countries, the posting said.

"You will see things that will make you happy, god willing," concluded the statement.

Al Qaeda had long threatened to attack Saudi Arabia's oil plants, but Friday was the first time it actually attempted to do so. Previously militants linked to Al Qaeda had killed foreigners working in the industry, but not at oil facilities.

Friday's assault suggested the militants were adopting the tactics of insurgents in neighboring Iraq, who have repeatedly targeted the oil industry. The Saudis have installed image-recognition devices along their desert border with Iraq to prevent miliants from crossing.

The Al Qaeda Web posting said "these (oil) factories help to steal the wealth of Muslims" and claimed the attack was "part of Al Qaeda's project to expel the infidels from the Arab peninsula."

Al Qaeda is led by the Saudi-born Usama bin Laden, who has long sought to replace the Saudi monarchy with an Islamic government, accusing the royal family of selling out to American "infidels." In late 2004, bin Laden released a video in which he called for attacks on oil facilities to hurt the West.

The posting said Friday's attack was dubbed "Operation Bin Laden Conquest."

The huge Abqaiq facility processes about two-thirds of Saudi Arabia's oil for export, removing hydrogen sulfide and reducing the vapor to make the crude safe for shipping. It lies 25 miles inland from the Gulf coast.

Interior Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki said the attack began at about 3 p.m. when two cars tried to drive through the gates of the outermost of three fences surrounding the processing facility. Guards shot at the cars, and both vehicles exploded, al-Turki said.

The explosions caused a fire that was quickly controlled, the oil minister said.

An AP correspondent who arrived at the site hours after the attack saw ambulances racing through Abqaiq's streets. Police set up roadblocks leading in and out of the town.

The facility lies several miles from a residential area where several thousand expatriate workers — including Americans, Europeans and Arabs — live. Al-Turki said no foreigners were injured in the violence.

Saudi Arabia has been waging a successful three-year crackdown on Al Qaeda in the kingdom. Security forces have killed or captured most of the Al Qaeda branch's known top leaders, most recently in gunbattles in December. The militants launched a campaign in 2003 to overthrow the U.S.-allied royal family.

Saudi Arabia holds over 260 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, a quarter of the world's total. It currently produce about 9.5 million barrels per day, or 11 percent of global consumption. Abqaiq processes at least 5 million barrels a day.