Hat tip to The Counterterrorism Blog. One of the "nightmare scenarios" in the counterterrorism community apparently almost happened, with a failed attack on a major oil refinery in Buqayq, eastern Saudi Arabia today. This is the first known terrorist attack on an oil facility in the Kingdom. Reuters and Al-Arabiya report that the attack failed, with Saudi security forces killing the attackers, who used at least two cars in a bombing attempt.
The AP writes that "the explosion was caused by a vehicle packed with explosives that was detonated by the shots of security guards who fired on it as it tried to drive into the refinery, a reporter for the pan-Arab satellite channel Al-Arabiya said." The Middle East Online reports, "Residents of Abqaiq said that they heard two blasts near the plant and saw two burned-out cars outside. It was not immediately clear if the abortive attack was the work of suicide bombers. Dozens of security forces and civil defense vehicles were seen outside the plant in Abqaiq, 35 kilometers (20 miles) south of Dammam, the main city of the Eastern Province, and about the same distance from the oil hub of Dhahran." Oil prices shot up and European stock markets dropped in fear on the initial news of the attack.
The Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, former CIA officer Robert Baer and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross predicted just such an attack. Gal Luft of Set America Free expanded upon the analysis of Baer, the subject of the film Syriana:
"...About two-thirds of Saudi Arabia's crude oil is processed in a single enormous facility called Abqaiq, 25 miles inland from the Gulf of Bahrain. On the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia has just two primary oil export terminals: Ras Tanura - the world's largest offshore oil loading facility, through which a tenth of global oil supply flows daily - and Ras al-Ju'aymah. On the Red Sea, a terminal called Yanbu is connected to Abqaiq via the 750-mile East–West pipeline. A terrorist attack on each one of these hubs of the Saudi oil complex or a simultaneous attack on few of them is not a fictional scenario. A single terrorist cell hijacking an airplane in Kuwait or Dubai and crashing it into Abqaiq or Ras Tanura, could turn the complex into an inferno. This could take up to 50% of Saudi oil off the market for at least six months and with it most of the world’s spare capacity, sending oil prices through the ceiling. "Such an attack would be more economically damaging than a dirty nuclear bomb set off in midtown Manhattan or across from the White House in Lafayette Square," wrote former CIA Middle East field officer Robert Baer."
On December 7, Gartenstein-Ross posted about 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."