Watching The World: Al-Qaeda's new oil strategy

Feb. 15, 2010
The oil and gas industry has long heard of the various chokepoints around the globe.

The oil and gas industry has long heard of the various chokepoints around the globe. The ones usually mentioned are Hormuz and Malacca—two key spots on the eastward oil supply route.

But now, it seems, the al-Qaeda terrorist organization is strutting its stuff over the Bab al-Mandab, the southern entrance to the Red Sea. Indeed, al-Qaeda is pondering the seizing of the Bab al-Mandab.

That's the word from London-based Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper, which last week filed a report on an audiotape attributed to Sa'id al-Shihri, the deputy leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Al-Quds reported that al-Shihri's audiotape, which was broadcast by known Islamic web sites, "contained much new information which reveals the present and future plans of this fundamentalist organization."

Seize control

Among other things, the paper stressed the organization's scheme to seize control of Bab al-Mandab Strait "at the entrance to the Red Sea through which most oil exports and US military reinforcements to the gulf region and the Mediterranean Sea pass."

According to the US Department of Energy, an estimated 3.3 million b/d flowed through the Bab al-Mandab toward Europe, the US, and Asia in 2006. The majority of traffic, about 2.1 million b/d, flows north through the Bab al-Mandab to the Suez-Sumed complex.

By closing the Bab al-Mandab, al-Qaeda could keep tankers from the Persian Gulf from reaching the Suez Canal or Sumed Pipeline, while also blocking southern oil transits such as China's transport from Port Sudan—a lifeline for that country's rapidly increasing appetite for energy.

Al-Quds acknowledges that al-Qaeda's control of the Bab al-Mandab "might not be easy, especially as it does not possess heavy weapons and modern boats that can be used for this purpose." The paper said, "But this does not mean it does not possess the logistical capabilities that can disrupt navigation in this vital international passageway," suggesting a widening of the war on terror.

Somali pirates

In particular, it mentions the Somali pirates, thought by some to have a direct connection with the Mujahidin Youth Movement, who have hijacked more than 100 ships—some of them giant oil tankers.

"They must surely have gained considerable expertise in how to intercept commercial ships in the past 5 years—during which their activity intensified," the paper states.

It also reminds us that there are more than 800,000 Somali refugees across the Strait in Yemen, existing in bad living conditions. The paper cannot rule out the possibility that "the Youth Movement has infiltrated and recruited them" to operate in al-Qaeda's ranks.

According to Al-Quds al-Arabi: "The organization does not need to recruit thousands but just few hundreds to implement some of its aims, among them infiltrating into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the gulf countries where two thirds of the world's oil reserves are."

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