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Terrorists Have Oil Industry in Cross Hairs

Economic Disruption Is a Key Goal

By Justin Blum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 27, 2004; Page A12

Terrorists and insurgents are stepping up attacks on oil and gas operations overseas in an effort to disrupt jittery energy markets, destabilize governments and scare off foreign workers, analysts said.

The attacks have been most intense in Iraq, but also have occurred in recent months in Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Russia and Nigeria.

A worker fixes a pump last week at an oil well near Baghdad. Attackers also target pipelines and tankers in areas with varying levels of security. (Ceerwan Aziz -- Reuters)

Easy Targets Attacks on Iraq's oil and gas infrastructure have been growing.

In many cases, the attacks are orchestrated by terrorists or rebels, often Islamic extremists, seeking to cause economic disruption or steal oil to finance their operations, analysts said. Their targets are sometimes pipelines, tankers and workers in areas with varying levels of security.

"You have motive and opportunity, so you're seeing more of this," said Anne Korin, director of policy and strategic planning for the Rockville-based Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, which tracks attacks on oil targets. "It's a very effective strategy on their part. . . . Oil is really a very target-rich area."

Korin said that terrorists find it easier to go after energy, which she called "our soft underbelly," because the targets often are convenient and have a high impact. They can be found near terrorists' home bases and in areas where there may be less security than in the United States.

Al Qaeda has repeatedly noted the appeal of oil targets, intelligence analysts said. Documents from the terrorist organization, obtained and translated earlierthis year by IntelCenter, an Alexandria company that provides risk assessment and terrorism information to government and businesses, calls for "hitting wells and pipelines that will scare foreign companies from working there and stealing Muslim treasures."

That document also highlighted as a "practical example" a 2002 suicide bombing attack on a French-chartered oil tanker off the Yemeni coast, killing a crew member and spilling 90,000 barrels of oil into the Gulf of Aden. Last month, several militants were convicted in Yemen for their roles in the tanker attack.

The attacks come as the world's oil production is stretched close to its limit. Analysts view the persistence of the attacks as a factor that adds pressure on oil prices. High prices have been cited by the Federal Reserve as contributing to slowed U.S. economic growth. On Friday, U.S. benchmark crude for November delivery closed at a record $48.88 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

No complete statistics exist on the number of oil and gas targets hit worldwide. In Iraq, the attacks have steadily increased this year from two in January to 18 in September, as of Friday, according to the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security. In a high-profile incident Thursday, gunmen killed a top Iraqi oil official in Mosul and attacked a pipeline in the south and a well near Baghdad.

The Iraq attacks have been causing huge disruptions in the country's oil production and resulting in millions in losses to the government.

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