- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 11, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 11 (UPI) — Osama bin Laden's al Qaida network is seeking volunteers for attacks on Saudi and Kuwaiti oil fields in the event of a U.S.-led war on Iraq, the Washington Times reported Tuesday.

U.S. intelligence officials who spoke on condition of anonymity told the newspaper there were few details on the attempt to recruit militants in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, but details of the move were derived from sensitive information obtained in the past week.

Both nations have strong pockets of support for radical Islamist groups such as al Qaida. Fifteen of the 19 Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers were Saudi nationals.

The Times said intelligence officials viewed the development as a new attempt by al Qaida, which is believed to be behind Sept. 11, to conduct economic terrorism.

An attack on oil fields would severely affect the flow of oil from the region. Saudi Arabia holds about one-fourth of the world's crude oil reserves; Kuwait has about 10 percent.

U.S. officials told the newspaper the wells are well protected but were susceptible to attacks by vehicles or groups of militants.

U.S. officials also told the newspaper they had detected signs the Iraqis had planted bombs near their oil facilities in Kirkuk, in northern Iraq, and had moved explosives toward oil fields in the south.

Fleeing Iraqi troops sabotaged some 700 Kuwaiti oil wells during the 1990-91 Gulf War.

Iraq pumps between 1.5 million and 2 million barrels of oil daily. U.S. officials, however, say a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq could produce between 7 million and 10 million barrels every day. Washington is seeking U.N. approval to disarm Saddam of his suspected weapons of mass destruction.

Saddam has said he will not destroy the oil wells in the event of a U.S.-led war.

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