- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Al Qaeda is seeking recruits in the Middle East for terrorist attacks on oil fields in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in the event of U.S. military action against Iraq, U.S. intelligence officials say.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials said yesterday that there are signs that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's forces have planted explosives in Iraqi oil fields in anticipation of sabotaging them during U.S. and allied military attacks.
The al Qaeda recruitment is targeting radical Islamists in Saudi Arabia and Yemen who are willing to conduct suicide attacks and other sabotage against the oil fields outside Iraq.
The threats to oil facilities highlight the possibility that military acton will disrupt the flow of oil from the Middle East, where most of the world's oil originates.
U.S. intelligence officials said there are few details on the terrorist recruitment effort. It was derived from sensitive information obtained in the past week, said officials familiar with the reports who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
"It's something we're concerned about," said a U.S. official familiar with the reports.
Saudi Arabia and Yemen are considered fertile recruiting grounds for al Qaeda. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers involved in the September 11 attacks were from Saudi Arabia. Yemen, south of Saudi Arabia, is the ancestral home of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and an area where many Islamist extremists live.
Intelligence officials view the targeting of oil fields outside Iraq as part of al Qaeda's efforts to conduct economic terrorism.
Since U.S. forces ousted Afghanistan's Taliban regime, disrupting al Qaeda's main base of operations, the terrorist group has sought to decentralize and focus on economic targets.
The October bombings of a French oil tanker in Yemen and nightclubs in Indonesia were part of the shift toward hitting economic targets aimed at damaging the oil and tourism industries.
Saudi Arabia has about 1,000 oil wells, most located in the Ghawar onshore field near the country's east coast and the Safaniyah offshore field in the Persian Gulf.
The Ghawar field includes wells in the cities of Ain Dar, Shedgum, Uthmaniyah, Fazran, Ghawar, Al Udayliyah, Hawiyah and Haradh.
Saudi Arabia holds about one-fourth of the world's known crude oil reserves, and Kuwait has about 10 percent. The Saudis produce between 8 million and 10 millions barrels of oil a day. Kuwait's daily production is about 2 million barrels.
U.S. officials said the wells have security but are vulnerable to sabotage by vehicles or groups of attackers.
Kuwait has four major crude oil production areas, in the north, west, southeast and at Wahfra, near the Saudi border. The fields have more than 2,000 wells.
U.S. and Kuwaiti military forces have stepped up security at some of Kuwait's oil facilities, according to a report Thursday from Kuwait by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Khaled Muhammad, a spokesman for the Kuwait Oil Company, said plans are in place to protect his country's oil resources.
"There is an emergency plan set up between the Kuwait Oil Company, the Ministry of Defense and all the government [emergency services] in Kuwait just in case of anything escalating from the possible war against Iraq," he told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
A total of 700 Kuwaiti oil wells were sabotaged by fleeing Iraqi troops in 1991. The sabotage included sending explosives down well shafts, setting off huge oil fires.
U.S. military helicopters were spotted patrolling areas near the Al Burgan oil field in southern Kuwait last week, and Kuwaiti police have stepped up patrols around oil facilities.
The threat to sabotage Saudi and Kuwaiti oil fields coincides with an audiotape message from bin Laden, broadcast in Qatar on Feb. 12, urging his followers to support Iraq and fight the United States.
Iraq pumps between 1.5 million and 2 million barrels of oil a day, but U.S. officials estimate that a post-Saddam Iraq could produce between 7 million and 10 million barrels a day.
Oil prices have increased sharply in recent weeks as the prospect of war against Iraq has raised concerns that petroleum supplies will be limited during a conflict.
An oil industry specialist said a war would not threaten U.S. supplies as long as Saudi Arabia continues to pump oil and if the Bush administration releases oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that top U.S. buyers of Iraqi crude oil, including ChevronTexaco and ExxonMobil, are curbing their purchases from Baghdad because of concerns about a war.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials say they have detected signs recently that the Iraqis had planted explosives at oil facilities in Kirkuk, in northern Iraq.
"There are indications that has taken place," one official said.
U.S. defense and intelligence officials said Iraqis have moved explosives toward oil fields in the south as well.
The Pentagon released a statement last week that said U.S. forces would seek to prevent Iraqi sabotage of its approximately 2,000 oil wells, 500 in the northern part of the country and 1,500 in the south.
"Recent information revealed that Iraq has received 24 railroad boxcars full of pentolite explosives," the statement said. "U.S. plans are first to prevent the destruction of Iraq's oil fields and second, if unable to prevent the destruction, to control and mitigate the damage quickly."
In an interview last month with CBS' Dan Rather, Saddam said his forces would not sabotage the country's oil wealth and accused the United States of plotting such actions and then blaming him.
"Iraq does not burn its own wealth, and it does not destroy its own dams. We hope that this question is not going to be used by those who intend to attack us, to cover their backs while they themselves destroy Iraq's dams and oil wells. Iraq will not destroy its oil or dams but will use them and protect them for the benefit of Iraqis," Saddam said.

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