RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – Saudi Arabia takes terror threats against its oil facilities seriously and has reinforced already tight security around them after Osama bin Laden began making threats against the industry last year, the country’s oil minister said Tuesday.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, has spent “substantial” amounts of money on securing its oil installations and it would be “difficult, if not impossible” for terrorists to attack them, Oil Minister Ali Naimi told a news conference on the sidelines of a four-day anti-terrorism conference.
“Even if it happens, the impact on the kingdom’s production and exports will be negligible,” he said.
Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef told reporters that although the terror threat had decreased, attacks could not be ruled out. The government will remain on full alert “until we ensure there isn’t a single terrorist left in the country,” he said.
Nayef said the al-Qaida terror network finances its attacks through drug trafficking and money laundering.
When al-Qaida launched its campaign in the kingdom in May 2003 — bombing Westerners’ housing compounds in Riyadh — there were fears bin Laden would also target the kingdom’s lifeline in an attempt to weaken the royal family. The al-Qaida leader considers the Saudi leadership to be corrupt and un-Islamic.
In a videotape on Oct. 29, bin Laden vowed to bleed America to bankruptcy, saying in his first appearance in more than a year that for every dollar his terrorist organization has spent on strikes, it has cost the United States $1 million in economic fallout and military spending, including emergency funding for Iraq (news – web sites) and Afghanistan (news – web sites).
On Dec. 16, he drove home the economic theme by urging his followers in an audiotape to “go on and try to prevent (the West) from getting oil. Concentrate your operations on that, especially in Iraq and the gulf.”
It was believed to be the first time a purported bin Laden tape had called for attacks on the oil industry.
Asked whether the Saudi government pays attention to such messages, Naimi said: “Any statements made by leaders of terror organizations that threaten our facilities will always be taken seriously.”
“We have taken additional security measures … in the last three to four months to make sure that our facilities, which were already well protected, will be even more protected so that no terrorist will succeed in damaging (even) slightly our facilities,” he added.
“Our objective is zero impact of terror activity on all our facilities.”
Naimi said the installations are protected by thousands of security personnel employed by oil and gas companies — the state’s Aramco company has more than 7,000 security officers_ as well as the government’s security agencies.
The minister said even if militants managed to breach security, the oil facilities are so spread out the government could “react fast.”
The installations comprise seven refineries, many thousands of miles of pipelines, two terminals — one on the Red Sea and another on the Persian Gulf — and oil and gas facilities scattered across the central and eastern provinces.
In addition, the kingdom has strategic reserves to fall back on in the event of a terror attack or an industrial disaster, Naimi said.
He said reports that terror attacks caused the departure of foreign experts and workers, especially in the oil sector, were “sensationalized.”
In addition, countries that have discouraged their citizens from travel to Saudi Arabia have reacted in an “exaggerated and unnecessary” manner, he said.
The anti-terrorism conference ended Tuesday with a final statement adopting Crown Prince Abdullah’s call for creation of an international center to share intelligence on terrorism.
The declaration said societies should “fight every ideology that promotes hate, incites violence and justifies terrorist crimes that are not accepted by any religion or law.”
Conference participants came from over 50 countries and international organizations. In the statement, they reasserted their commitment to U.N. anti-terrorism resolutions and called on the media to draw up guidelines to ensure terrorists do not use the press to recruit militants or to communicate with them.