|Al-Qaeda calls for attacks on Canadian oil facilities|
Ian MacLeod, CanWest News Service
Published: Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Al-Qaeda has called for terrorist strikes against Canada's oil and natural gas facilities to "choke the U.S. economy."
An online message, posted by The Al-Qaeda Organization in the Arabian Peninsula, declares "we should strike petroleum interests in all areas which supply the United States ... like Canada," the No. 1 supplier of both fuels to the U.S.
"The biggest party hurt will be the industrial nations, and on top of them, the United States," it said.
The group, the Saudi arm of Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, claimed responsibility for a thwarted February 2006 suicide attack on the world's largest oil processing facility at Abqaiq in Saudi Arabia's eastern province. The group also is believed responsible for other attacks against the Saudi energy sector.
Last week's message is contained in Sawt al-Jihad (Voice of Jihad), the group's online magazine. A feature article, titled "Bin Laden's Oil Weapon," encourages al-Qaeda operatives to continue to follow directives from Mr. bin Laden to strike oil targets not only in Saudi Arabia, but elsewhere, according to a translation by the SITE Institute, a non-profit U.S. group that monitors terrorist websites
Three western countries are singled out in the call-to-arms -- Canada first, followed by Mexico and Venezuela. Would-be attackers are instructed to target oilfields, pipelines, loading platforms and carriers.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service last night said it was aware of the posting, as is the federal Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.
"Do we think it's a serious threat? I can't get into that," said CSIS spokeswoman Barbara Campion.
Greg Stringham, vice-president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said the threat is similar to a posting about a year ago, when an al-Qaeda-affiliated Internet blog called on Canadian and U.S. jihadists to attack an Alaskan oil pipeline.
The new posting is "not singling out Canada, it specifically mentions Canada, but along with some other countries that are suppliers to the U.S," he said.
"It's not the first time that it's happened and we have no credible threat to substantiate it ... but still we are taking it seriously and we've informed all of our members and contacts about that -- especially those with critical infrastructure -- to pay extra attention and be vigilant."
Experts have long considered the U.S. dependence on foreign oil -- and al-Qaeda's evolving strategy to attempt to deny the U.S. access to its major oil suppliers -- as the country's Achilles heel.
A major supply disruption would send energy prices soaring. Had the Abqaiq attack been successful -- guards fired on cars driven by the bombers, detonating the explosives inside -- some experts say oil prices would have likely broken all records. A catastrophic hit could bring transportation and other parts of the U.S. and world economies to a standstill.
"We should strike petroleum interests in all areas which supply the United States, and not only in the Middle East, because the target is to stop its imports or decrease it by all means," says the article, authenticated by security experts as coming from the Saudi al-Qaeda arm.
Tom Quiggan, a senior fellow at the Centre of Excellence for National Security, at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University, cautioned yesterday: "We should not be overly concerned at this exact moment. Al-Qaeda is an organization has been severely weakened."
Even so, "Sawt al-Jihad has correctly analysed the oil-importing situation of the United States and concluded that it is not just Middle Eastern suppliers that are important," he said.
The posting appears to be "intended to send a message to its followers that they should consider a wider set of targets than just those in the Middle East."
It also is "an operational suggestion to the 'homegrown jihadists' and independent groups that follow the inspiration message of al-Qaeda. To them, it outlines a suggested list of potential new targets. Canada is at the top of that list."
Since 2000, he said, Canada's proven oil reserves have risen from about five billion barrels of oil to more than 180 billion barrels. That puts Canada in the No. 2 position as an oil reserve country, second only to Saudi Arabia and significantly ahead of other states such as Iraq, Kuwait or Iran.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called attention to the growing role of his home province of Alberta by telling international audiences that Canada is emerging as an "energy superpower" with the sole politically stable source of growing oil production on the planet.
Industry installations in Alberta include airport tower-like control rooms for pipelines that deliver about 15 per cent of the natural gas and 10 per cent of the oil consumed in the U.S. as well as most Canadian supplies.
Martin Rudner, director of Carleton University's Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies, characterized the posting as "very serious" and said "the highest levels in our security and intelligence community," have been aware of it since Friday.
He said al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is "a bunch of guys with capability and intent. I would ramp up my awareness, all the kinds of things which intelligence and law enforcement agencies are supposed to do, I would ramp up."
Because the Sawt al-Jihad article contains operational details of the Abqaiq attack, the first major attack on a Saudi oil facility and one that the groups hails as a success, Mr. Rudner believes the message is intended as a call-to-arms rather than a piece of propaganda aimed at the West.
"They're speaking to their foot soldiers and to their planners. They're saying, 'We were successful (in Abqaiq), what have we got to learn to be more successful? And then you say, 'Here's Canada, Mexico and Venezuela.' That's a signal -- 'What we did Abqaiq we could do there'."
He said a successful attack against Canadian supplies and a resulting disruption of American oil and gas would also "damage the most important bilateral trade connection in the infidel world. To interrupt this would be not only of economic significance, but of symbolic significance."
Kyle Keith, director of operations for the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, said companies have several emergency programs in place.
"The fact that this information is making the rounds and we're sharing it shows our security programs are working," he said.
"Unfortunately the nature is your programs are a bit reactive, but so far it looks like things are working as they should -- the sharing of information and the heightened awareness."
The Saudi group also is believed to have been responsible for a May 2004 incident in which attackers stormed the offices of a Houston-based oil company in the western Saudi oil hub of Yanbu. An ensuring gun battle killed six Westerners, a Saudi and the militants. Several weeks later, gunmen believed to belong to the group stormed oil company compounds in Khobar, on the eastern coast, and took hostages in a siege that killed 22 people, 19 of them foreigners.