Al-Qaeda threatens China's overseas oil, gas interests

The al-Qaeda terrorist organization has vowed to avenge the deaths of Muslims in the Chinese province of Xinjiang by targeting Beijing's extensive workforce and projects around the globe, including its oil and gas interests, according to a private intelligence report.

Eric Watkins
OGJ Oil Diplomacy Editor

LOS ANGELES, July 14 -- The al-Qaeda terrorist organization has vowed to avenge the deaths of Muslims in the Chinese province of Xinjiang by targeting Beijing's extensive workforce and projects around the globe, including its oil and gas interests, according to a private intelligence report.

“Muslims worldwide have reacted angrily to the situation in Xinjiang, demonstrated for example by protests in Jakarta,” said London-based risk analyst Stirling Assynt in a report for its clients.

Stirling noted that the first militant group to formally react to the news of violence against Muslim Uighurs is al-Qaeda’s Algerian offshoot, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which also has a presence in Mauritania, Niger, and Mali.

According to Stirling, AQIM “has pledged to avenge the fallen Muslims in China by targeting the 50,000 Chinese workers in Algeria as well as Chinese projects and workers across North West Africa.”

“This threat should be taken seriously,” Stirling said, noting that just 3 weeks ago, AQIM forces “ambushed a convoy of Algerian security forces protecting Chinese engineers, killing 24 Algerian security officers.”

Stirling said AQIM did not attack the Chinese engineers because the target was the project on which they were working, along with the security personnel themselves.

“Now, future attacks of this kind are likely to target security forces and Chinese engineers alike,” the analyst said.

According to independent reports, as well as targeting the police and the army, AQIM has vowed to target the country’s commercial and foreign interests—including the increased number of new opportunities in Algeria’s oil and gas industry.

Taking no chances
While the group has not yet struck oil and gas networks in Algeria, international oil companies, including BP PLC, StatoilHydro, Repsol YPF SA, and Total SA, are taking no chances and operate under heavy security.

Although AQIM appears to be the first arm of al-Qaeda to state officially that it will target Chinese interests, other al-Qaeda affiliates are thought likely to follow their lead.

“Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) could well target Chinese projects in Yemen, which are seen to benefit the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, whom they are actively trying to topple,” it said.

In Yemen, according to independent reports, Sinopec is planning to drill one well on each of its three exploration blocks this year, having announced a gas discovery on Block 71 late in 2008.

According to Stirling, the general situation (and perceived plight) of China’s Muslims has resonated amongst the global Jihadist community.

Stirling said there is an increased amount of internet “chatter” among active Jihadists, who claim they want to see action to avenge the perceived injustices in Xinjiang.

“Some of these individuals have been actively seeking information on China’s interests in the Muslim world (locations include North Africa in general, Sudan, Pakistan, and Yemen), which they could use for targeting purposes,” Stirling said.

African targets
Even in North Africa, potential targets abound:

-- In Algeria, China National Petroleum Corp. recently said its NGS-P-1 well on Block 438B in the Oued Mya basin encountered significant oil and gas flows that indicate a high probability of commerciality.

-- In Niger, CNPC said its Faringa W-1 well, drilled on Agadem Block in April and May, hit 30 m of oil. CNPC said it has been drilling a number of evaluation wells since December and has collected significant reservoir data.

Elsewhere in Africa are other key Chinese targets:

-- In Chad, CNPC last month began work on a major oil pipeline in southwestern Chad, due to become operational in 2011, which will transport crude from Koudalwa field 300 km south of N'Djamena to the Djarmaya refinery north of the capital.

-- In Nigeria, Sinopec recently acquired Addax Petroleum Corp., described by one observer as a major strategic step forward for Sinopec, giving it control of operations of the large Taq Taq field in Iraqi Kurdistan and highly prospective exploration acreage offshore Nigeria and Gabon.

“What remains to be seen is the response of AQ’s senior leadership, which could be expected in the next 7-14 days, given the usual lag in statements issued by them,” Stirling said.

On one hand they do not want to open a new front with China, but on the other their sense of Muslim solidarity compels them to help and to be seen to be helping.

“The most likely scenario is for AQIM and AQAP to be granted sufficient latitude to carry out a number of attacks against Chinese targets in their respective locations,” Stirling said.

“This will demonstrate that AQ cares about Muslims in China but precludes the need for AQ Central to commit to a new, unwelcome campaign,” the analyst concluded.

Underlining the significance of the Stirling report, in mid-June military units from Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, and Libya began joint military exercises on methods of intervention in the event of an attack by terrorist involving chemical weapons or chemical related disasters.

“No country or region is immune to such attacks or incidents,” said Nasma Baghli, the director of security and disarmament at the Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at the launch of the military exercises in Ain Naadja.

Around the same time, in the first operation of its kind, Malian government forces killed between 16 and 26 alleged AQIM members in an attack on its base in the Timetrine region near the border with Algeria.

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com.

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