OTTAWA – Canada’s oil industry represents an “ideologically attractive and strategic target” to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network, says an intelligence assessment obtained by The Canadian Press.
The report lends credence to the notion that terrorists might strike at Canadian energy facilities as a means of harming the United States – choking off a resource that’s vital to American commerce.
“Canadian domestic and international oil interests continue to be viewed as legitimate targets by Sunni Islamic extremists,” says the report by the Integrated Threat Assessment Centre.
The multi-agency centre, housed at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, draws on information from a variety of sources to analyze current threats.
Though prepared in March, the document entitled Terrorist Threats to the Canadian Oil Industry was only just released under the Access to Information Act. Several portions of the report were considered too sensitive to disclose.
The assessment followed a February call in the Internet publication Voice of Jihad to attack oil facilities in Canada, Mexico and Venezuela.
Greg Stringham, a vice-president with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said Tuesday the oil industry diligently watches for such red flags.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, the focus has shifted from emergency response plans to preventive measures in co-operation with the provincial and federal governments, Stringham said.
“And it continues to evolve,” he said. “You can always move to further improvements, so we continue to work with them on that.”
Steps taken range from new perimeter fencing and security patrols to surveillance cameras and communication plans, he said.
The report notes oil companies have already experienced threats and attacks from a variety of sources.
At home, Canadian oil enterprises have faced sabotage and vandalism, albeit unrelated to international terrorism. And around the world, Canadian oil facilities and workers have been subjected to assaults and kidnappings most often linked to local disputes.
The assessment says that while al-Qaida has never issued threats directly against foreign Canadian oil interests, the terrorist network “has recognized Canada as an ally in the U.S. ‘War on Terror’ and perceives it to be exploiting Middle Eastern oil supplies.”
The report suggests that, as a result, the thousands of Canadians who toil in the energy fields of the Middle East and North Africa have become increasingly vulnerable.
It notes that last September an oil terminal operated by the Canadian Nexen corporation in Ash Shihr, Yemen, was attacked with suicide car bombs. Though causing no significant damage, the group al-Qaida in Yemen referred to Nexen as owners of a “crusader” port and promised harsher assaults in future.
Canada is the largest overall energy supplier to the United States, which receives 99 per cent of Canada’s crude oil exports and 56 per cent of its natural gas exports – quantities critical to American needs, the report says.
Given Canada’s role in supplying its southern neighbour and al-Qaida’s desire to target oil flow, “Canada’s domestic oil industry will continue to represent and ideologically attractive and strategic target to (al-Qaida).”