Al Qaida targets: United States, major Saudi oil complex

Thursday, May 22, 2003

The U.S. intelligence community has assessed that the next target of Al Qaida could be the United States.

Arab diplomatic and industry sources, on the other hand, believe Al Qaida is targeting the Saudi oil facility at Ras Tanura, regarded as the largest oil complex in the world.

U.S. officials said the suicide strikes in Riyad and Casablanca over the last 10 days could be a prelude to a much bigger attack on the U.S. mainland. They said the Al Qaida assassination of a pro-U.S. Afghan rebel leader was meant to trigger the suicide strikes on New York and Washington in September 2001.

"I can tell you that the reports that we received indicated that those two attacks overseas might be a prelude to an attack in the United States," FBI director Robert Mueller said on Wednesday. "But we have no specificity as to targets, or specific time."

The Arab sources said Al Qaida has ended its longtime ban on attacks against Saudi installations, Middle East Newsline reported. In 1990, Al Qaida founder Osama Bin Laden ruled against targeting Saudi or Gulf oil fields.

"Last summer, an attempt to bomb Ras Tanura the world's largest oil terminal complex was foiled," Nawaf Obaid, a Saudi oil analyst, told the Jedda-based Arab News. "But the intention of destroying these oil fields was there and still exists.

Earlier, the United States raised its threat alert level from code yellow to orange. Code orange denotes a high level of alert. The Defense Department issued a similar alert for U.S. military forces in North America.

On Wednesday, the Qatari-based A-Jazeera television played an audio tape of whom the satellite channel identified as Ayman Zawahiri, the chief aide of Al Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden. Zawahiri, whose voice was identified by U.S. officials, exhorted Muslims to launch a major attack on the United States that would rival that of nearly two years ago.

"Consider your 19 brothers who attacked America in Washington and New York with their planes as an example," Zawahiri said.

The FBI has alerted law enforcement officials throughout the United States to brace for a major attack by Al Qaida. The FBI bulletin did not specify targets or the timing of such an attack.

Officials said information obtained from the interrogation of captured Al Qaida operatives as well as the interception of communications from those connected with the group point to a number of scenarios for an attack

against the United States. They said the scenarios range from a missile attack against a U.S. passenger airliner to another suicide hijacking similar to that in 2001.

A U.S. interagency team has been investigating the attacks in the Saudi capital. Mueller said the team of FBI agents and State Department investigators have received the full cooperation of the Saudi kingdom.

"The lead in the investigation are the Saudis, but they have been completely cooperative to date," Mueller said.

Officials said Al Qaida insurgents continue to operate in Iran. They said the Bush administration has become increasingly concerned that the insurgents, who include Bin Laden's son, helped plan the attacks in Riyad and Casablanca.

"I'll leave the analysis to others," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said. "But just from a factual standpoint, there's no question but that there have been and are today senior Al Qaida leaders in Iran. And they're busy."

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