Life imitates art
Minerva at Terrorism Unveiled has a detailed analysis of the failed attack on a Saudi oil production facility here. Interestingly, the Abqaiq oil production complex was the setting for a hypothetical scenario in a recent book authored by a former CIA analyst Robert Baer to illustrate a 'nightmare' attack on the energy heart of the West.
The Counterterrorism blog amplifies on the importance of Abqaiq as an economc target by quoting from Baer.
Former CIA officer Robert Baer describes this site as "the most vulnerable point and most spectacular target in the Saudi oil system." The huge facility processes around two-thirds of Saudi Arabia's oil output and is the single largest oil processing facility in the world. Oil industry experts on impact of successful attack: "If this has an impact on exports and production, it would be close to one of the things the industry fears the most" - "To have this happen in the world's largest oil-producing nation is what's really got people frightened." Oil markets are already touchy over Nigerian militants' continued attacks on that country's energy sector, a topic of Doug Farah's posts here and here.
Both Terrorism Unveiled and the Counterterrorism blog note that al-Qaeda, which both consider the likeliest perp, has long thought about the utility of an "oil weapon" against the West.
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross wrote an article, "Al Qaeda's Oil Weapon," in the "Weekly Standard" last year, a longer version of his September 27 CT Blog post. ... On December 7, Daveed posted about Al Qaeda deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri's call for attacks on oil facilities in a video. "I call on the holy warriors to concentrate their campaigns on the stolen oil of the Muslims, most of the revenues of which go to the enemies of Islam." Daveed reminds me that the December 2004 tape by Osama Bin Laden includes this order (MEMRI translation): "Focus your operations on it [oil production], especially in Iraq and the Gulf area, since this [lack of oil] will cause them to die off [on their own]." An early attack by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq was of an oil terminal there, killing 3 Americans
My own thoughts is the attacks are less an "oil weapon" than an economic terror weapon. The scale of attacks which could physically halt or seriously interdict global petroleum flows would probably be past the capability of any terrorist group. However, by introducing psychological uncertainty into the oil market terrorists can spike the price, and hence the amount of money that the world pays the Middle East, to the cumulative tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. It's a manipulation of the market by perps who do not hesitate to describe themselves as victims. ""I call on the holy warriors to concentrate their campaigns on the stolen oil of the Muslims", Zawahiri said.