Since Osama bin Laden first spoke about the necessity of targeting the oil industry in order to damage the U.S. economy, there has been a clear shift in al-Qaeda’s operational strategy. Moreover, just months after al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri called on his fellow mujahideen to target oil supplies, al-Qaeda operatives attacked the Abqaiq oil refinery, one of the largest in the world, in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia (http://www.almahdy.net, December 10, 2005). Even though the price of oil increased by over $2 a barrel after the attack, counter-terrorism officials and Saudi Aramco representatives considered the attack unsuccessful due to the effective security response at the refinery. Nevertheless, the 30th issue of al-Qaeda’s publication Sawt al-Jihad, released in January, gives a different account of the attack and the extent of al-Zawahiri’s provocation against the global oil industry. Al-Zawahiri’s call to target the oil industry on an international level was translated by jihadi forum participants into Italian, French and was made available for download on various Islamist websites, one of which is http://www.lahdah.com.
Contrary to statements made by officials and observers of al-Qaeda’s Abqaiq refinery attack, who claimed that al-Qaeda’s loss of tactical and strategic capabilities were evident in the operation, an interview in Sawt al-Jihad with one of the operatives that participated in the attack, Badir Abdullah al-Himaidi, gave a different account of the incident. Al-Himaidi, who survived the attack and is presently believed to be with al-Qaeda in Iraq, reiterated that the attack was carried out successfully by “Osama bin Laden’s platoon” on the orders of Amir Osama bin Laden. According to the interview, the platoon was comprised of seven mujahideen who fled the scene unharmed, except for the two suicide attackers that drove the two explosives-laden vehicles into the refinery and took out the control room and sections of the oil pipelines.
Another article in the issue, written by Adeeb al-Bassam, enumerates the successful aspects of the Abqaiq attack, stating that the oil industry has long been on al-Qaeda’s target list as opposed to what some al-Qaeda experts label as a new trend in al-Qaeda’s operations. Al-Bassam highlights the importance of oil for the G-8 countries since the secure flow of oil is the lifeline for the industrialized world. Furthermore, al-Bassam criticizes President George W. Bush’s latest State of the Union speech where he alludes to the insignificance of Middle Eastern oil for the United States. Al-Bassam calls this claim a lie that is intended for political consumption and has been repeatedly used by other U.S. presidents in the past, especially Jimmy Carter who promised to completely halt the import of Middle Eastern oil by the year 1990. In fact, according to al-Bassam, U.S. oil imports increased by 60 percent since then.
In addition, the article provides facts and figures illustrating the dependence of the U.S. economy on oil and the possibility that the United States might try to increase supplies from Canada, Venezuela and Mexico. Al-Bassam, therefore, recaps the directives of Osama bin Laden to target oil industries including wells, pipelines, export platforms, fuel tankers and anything that will affect oil supply routes to the United States. These attacks are to be on an international scale, and thus should include the targeting of facilities in Canada and Venezuela, for example.
Past experience tells us that al-Qaeda operatives, who are sturdy adherents of Salafi-Jihadi ideology, pledge allegiance to bin Laden and his directives. Eventually, whether decentralized or directly linked to al-Qaeda, terrorist cells will try to carry out bin Laden’s orders.