By Stephen Ulph
Along with the "Impediments to Jihad" audiotape, the al-Sahab Media Productions company produced on September 19 a 43-minute video featuring a meeting with Ayman al-Zawahiri, five minutes of which was broadcast on that day by the Arab television network al-Jazeera. On December 7, al-Jazeera re-ran other extracts from the same interview, this time including instructions by al-Zawahiri to attack oil installations. The interview has since been re-posted on the jihadi forums, including al-Safinat (http://18.104.22.168/~alsafnat/vb/).
In the interview, al-Zawahiri invited the mujahideen "to focus their attacks on the oil wells stolen from the Muslims, because most of the revenues of this oil go to the enemies of Islam." He elaborated that the latter were exploiting oil with "incomparable greed, and we have to stop that theft with all we can to save this fortune for the nation of Islam." Due to some confusion as to whether the comments were part of a new interview there was a flurry of interest from analysts. In Kuwait security was stepped up around oil facilities, vital installations and diplomatic missions, mindful not only of the threat but also of the upcoming December 12 OPEC meeting to be held in the country.
Yet, in reality the call to target oil facilities goes back some time. While bin Laden originally counseled against targeting these facilities on the grounds that they constituted a fundamental resource for the Umma, al-Qaeda soon elaborated a new "bleed-until-bankruptcy" strategy against the United States, as the prime backers of the Gulf regimes. Strategy analyses, such as Abu Musab al-Najdi’s "Al-Qaeda’s Battle is an Economic Battle and Not Military," written on October 3, highlighted the role of targeting oil in the future struggle, as part of waging economic attrition against the enemy. Given that the mujahideen have successfully "prevented the Americans from gaining control of large quantities of Iraqi oil to plug the gap caused by the September 11 attacks," the author concludes that, on the bases of its statements and operations to date, "al-Qaeda will concentrate its efforts on oil targets in one of these three statesâ€”Kuwait, Venezuela and so-called â€˜Saudi’ Arabia" and continue its campaign to "prevent the American thieves from benefiting from Iraqi oil" (text posted on October 23 on the forum Minbar Suriya al-Islami [www.nnuu.org.vb]).
In fact, bin Laden’s last audio message, issued December 16, 2004, included an explicit call for attacks in the Gulf. After extended criticism of the Saudi regime, the final section of the hour-long diatribe focused on the need to turn on the "American-Zionist coalition, their allies and their agents â€¦ to seek out their weak spots." In particular, he called on the mujahideen to "make every effort in your power to stop the greatest theft in history of the natural resources of both present and future generations." To do this, they should "focus operations on [oil production], especially in Iraq and the Gulf area, since this will cause them to die off." The gravity of these statements was graphically demonstrated last September when Saudi security forces, after a 48-hour armed confrontation at al-Dammam, uncovered a stash of forged documents aimed at providing militants with access to some of Saudi Arabia’s principal oil and gas facilities. Since this time, forum traffic has kept the "U.S. thirst for oil" theme at the fore as an explanation for American strategy in the region, and, accordingly, has highlighted the vulnerability of the superpower, as illustrated by the episodes of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Comments to this effect populate the forums passim.
Kuwait’s preparatory precautions are therefore not an over reaction. A report from the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research (www.ecssr.ac.ae) indicated that "the al-Qaeda organization represents a real danger to the Gulf states, which may be their next target." It gives as reason for this analysis the lack of organization and countermeasures taken against the danger, which "leave the field open for the terrorists to gain a foothold and recruit new elements in preparation for a new wave of terror attacks in the region."