Qaeda group also planned to hit Kuwaiti refinery


Kuwait, the world’s fourth-largest oil exporter, said on Tuesday it had foiled a plan by the six-member Al Qaeda-linked network to bomb the US Army camp of Arifjan, state security headquarters, and “important facilities”, but gave no further details on the other potential targets.

“The group planned to attack Shuaiba during Ramadan,” the security official said. Ramadan is due to begin around August 22.

The ageing 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) Shuaiba plant is the smallest of the OPEC member’s three refineries, which have a combined capacity of around 930,000 bpd.

Al Qaeda, hard hit by government forces across the Arabian Peninsula, appears to be trying to regroup around it Yemeni wing, which announced plans earlier this year to widen the scope of operations to include the rest of the oil-exporting region.

Al Qaeda leaders have for repeatedly called for attacks on oil facilities and Western interests in the Gulf to destabilise US-allied rulers and harm the economies of Western countries by blocking the flow of oil to their industrial economies.

Members of the cell, led by a surgeon at one of the Gulf state’s hospitals, had confessed to planning attacks aimed at pressuring the United States to remove Kuwait-based troops, Al Anbaa newspaper reported yesterday, citing unidentified sources it said were familiar with the investigation. Kuwait was the launch pad for the 2003 US-led war on Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein. The US army uses sites in the Arab country as a logistics base to support troops in Iraq. Camp Arifjan is located south of the capital Kuwait.

The cell used Google Earth to acquire images of the refinery, the camp and a state security building, Anbaa said.

Al Qaeda has waged attacks in Kuwait in recent years and bombed foreign housing complexes and oil sites in Gulf Arab states including Saudi Arabia, but a crackdown by governments in the region has succeeded in preventing fresh violence.

“This refinery is very well protected,” said a Kuwaiti oil official. “There is really no way to approach it by land.”

Kuwait bolstered security around Shuaiba in 2005 and tightened measures to protect oil installations in 2007 after top oil exporter and neighbour Saudi Arabia foiled an Al Qaeda plot that included plans to attack a major oil facility.

Political analyst Shafiq Ghabra says the planned withdrawal of US troops from Iraq has not discouraged Al Qaeda from planning attacks on US-allied Arab countries. “Their issue is not the withdrawal of the US (troops), it’s also their … regime, the existing elite, the existing ruling families,” he said on Tuesday.

Al Qaeda is now struggling to reassert its presence after setbacks in Iraq and Pakistan, Ghabra added. “They are trying to hit wherever they feel there is a weakness.”

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