IRAQ

Al Qaeda’s Next Target: American Oil Tankers

The group's newest publication talks about attacking U.S. supertankers and screwing up the oil supply chain
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Oct 20, 2014 at 2:38 PM ET

Al Qaeda discusses strategic attacks on chokepoints of oil shipments from the Middle East to the West in its first issue of “Resurgence,” an English-language propaganda magazine posted to al Qaeda online forum Shamikh1.info. In a 117-page issue produced by As-Sahab, a new South Asia al Qaeda media branch, the group lays out the American oil flow system in detail and suggests the interruption of that flow with attacks.

The extremists have recently taken a back seat in western media to their more evil counterparts, ISIS, but they are still plotting the destruction of America. In an article called, “On Targeting the Achilles Heel of Western Economies,” Hamza Khalid writes that the way for al Qaeda to weaken the U.S. is to carry out a “multi-pronged strategy that focuses not only on attacking American military presence in the Muslim world, but also targeting the super-extended energy supply line that fuels their economies and helps to sustain their military strength.” al Qaeda is going straight for American oil chokepoints, like the Straits of Gibraltar, the Straits of Hormuz, the Suez canal, or the Bab El Mendeb Strait at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Some spots are narrow enough for insurgents to lurk in the bushes and launch RPG attacks on passing ships.

“Even if a single supertanker… were to be attacked in one of the chokepoints or hijacked and scuttled in one of these narrow sea lanes, the consequences would be phenomenal…” the article says. The group is pushing a “coordinated effort to disrupt enemy shipping in the future in all of these regions” to put a damper in the “energy umbilical cord” of the western economy—oil.

Countries in which al Qaeda says it has soldiers for potential attacks are the Atlas Mountains in northern Algeria, Sinai, Syria, the Philippines, Indonesia and Somalia. According to the article, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula also “has the operational ability to attack western targets in the Gulf.”

Khalid goes on to list other targets besides chokepoints: “Western workers working in oil companies in the Muslim World,” “Oil facilities, including terminals and pipelines, which export oil to western countries,” and “attacks on the U.S. Navy.”

America’s energy independence (read: independence from relying on unpredictable middle east sources of oil) has been a major priority for President Obama, and even got a subtle mention in his first, long-awaited speech on ISIS. Nonetheless, an attack on the U.S. oil system would be devastating–even though the U.S. is set to surpass Saudi Arabia this month as the world’s top producer of oil America remains the world’s largest consumer of oil, and like any developed economy, is susceptible to price changes. ISIS now controls oil fields in much of northern Iraq, adding to the disruption–the Islamic extremist group is making millions per day selling oil on the black market.

Al Qaeda are just as keen to heap economic woe on the U.S., and not just by causing big, showy explosions or stealing their military hardware, but by hitting their insurance bills and the petrol pump at the same time. “In 2002,” says Khalid, “the Mujahideen attacked a French oil tanker, the Limburg, off the coast of Yemen in the Bab El Mendeb Strait. The attack caused a short-term collapse of international shipping in the Strait. The insurance premium for a single supertanker carrying two million barrels of oil tripled from $150,000 to $450,000 per trip, adding 15 cents a barrel to the delivered cost of oil.”

“Resurgence” is just the latest installment in glossy English-language publications produced by Middle Eastern terrorist groups. ISIS produced a similarly fancy magazine called Dabiq starting in July, mostly focused on the group’s caliphate in Iraq and Syria.