- The Washington Times - Friday, December 17, 2004

Terror leader Osama bin Laden, in an hourlong audio recording posted on an Islamist Web site, has urged his followers to attack oil facilities in Iraq and the Persian Gulf, apparently seeking to drive up global oil prices in his war against the West.

“One of the most important reasons that our enemies control our land is the pilfering of our oil,” bin Laden said and urged his followers to “prevent them from getting the oil and conduct your operations accordingly, particularly in Iraq and the Gulf,” according to a U.S. government translation obtained by United Press International.

“Targeting America in Iraq in terms of economy and loss of life is a golden and unique opportunity,” bin Laden said.

Michael Shanahan, spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute declined to comment directly on bin Laden’s call, but said there were many factors that could influence the price of crude oil, including concern about the possibility of future terrorist attacks.

“If the oil markets believe that there is a threat to the supply, that could have an effect on the price,” he said.

“We’re already paying a ‘fear premium’ on oil,” said al Qaeda analyst and author Peter Bergen. “There’s some debate about how much it is, but there is one.”

“Raising the price of oil does appear to be one of bin Laden’s strategic goals,” a U.S. official said.

Global oil prices rose sharply yesterday on fear of tight U.S. winter fuel supplies and bin Laden’s call for attacks on Gulf oil supplies. Light, sweet crude for January delivery climbed $2.10 to settle at $46.28 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

This is not the first time that bin Laden has called for attacks on U.S. and Western economic targets. One such call was followed shortly by an attack on the French oil tanker Limburg off the coast of Yemen in October 2002.

U.S. intelligence quickly concluded the recording was of bin Laden, and said it was the first ever to be posted directly to the Web rather than sent to a television channel or other broadcast outlet first.

Aimee Ibrahim, an analyst with homeland security consultants DFI International told a conference in Washington earlier this month that al Qaeda has warned Al Jazeera television — which has received the majority of bin Laden messages since September 11, 2001 — against editing its videotapes. A spokesman for the al-Sahab Institute, which produces al Qaeda’s videos, told the TV network that if it did not play the tapes in full they would no longer be sent to them.

Al Jazeera and most other TV stations generally air only portions of the bin Laden tapes deemed newsworthy, but post the entire transcripts on their Web sites later.

“There’s been a big debate about the role of Al Jazeera,” said Mr. Bergen, noting that the station had been accused of incitement for playing even excerpts of the bin Laden recordings. “That looks like it’s basically over now.”

Al Qaeda has made extensive use of the Internet, posting claims of responsibility for attacks and political statements, and even publishing a magazine, Muaskar al-Battar, online.

Mr. Bergen and the U.S. official also confirmed that the latest recording had what Mr. Bergen called “the fastest turnaround” of any previous bin Laden message: it referred to an event that took place only 10 days ago.

The recording, posted on a Web site called al-Qal’ah, or “the fortress,” praises the Dec. 6 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Jidda, Saudi Arabia.

“We pray to Allah to welcome the souls of the mujahideen who attacked the American consulate in Jidda,” the speaker said about the assault that left nine dead, including four attackers.

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