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The Coming Oil War ... Against al-Qaeda

Daniel J. Graeber of Oilprice.com
Monday, 28 Jan 2013 | 12:35 PM ET
A car drives past an oil installation on the outskirts of In Amenas, deep in the Sahara near the Libyan border.
AFP | Getty Images
A car drives past an oil installation on the outskirts of In Amenas, deep in the Sahara near the Libyan border.

A consortium that deals with security issues is warning about possible threats to oil installations in Libya, which could make it the center of similar attacks that recently crippled Algeria.

Islamists based in that country were said to have played a role in deadly January attacks on the In Amenas natural gas facility in eastern Algeria.

Those attacks were said to be in response to an Algerian decision to let French forces use its airspace to fight al-Qaeda supporters in nearby Mali. Now, it seems the threat focus has shifted back to Libya, where the government of Moamar Gadhafi has ended, and a new war on terror begins.

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The International News Safety Institute — which looks into security issues for journalists traveling through hostile countries — was alerted by "credible sources" that terrorist groups may be planning attacks on oil fields in Libya. The organization added that the warning it received considered Benghazi a likely target, given the large number of oil fields in the western port city.

INSI's advisory came as the U.S. and British government issued similar warning for citizens remaining in Libya.

"We are aware of a specific, imminent threat to Westerners in Benghazi," a warning from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office read. "We advise against all travel to Benghazi and urge any British nationals who are there against our advice to leave immediately."

In mid-January, a faction of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb stormed the In Amenas natural gas facility in eastern Algeria. That raid left several hostages and foreign fighters dead. Sources close to militant groups in Libya said the Algerian attack had the logistical support of Islamic fighters who traveled across the western border.

For post-war Libya, oil and natural gas makes up nearly all of the country's export revenues, and about 80 percent of all government revenues.

The government in response to renewed al-Qaeda tensions and a high level of violence in Benghazi ordered a petroleum security team on high alert.

In Algeria, the military there wasted no time, and gave no quarter, when al-Qaeda stormed its energy interests. Oil and natural gas accounts for about 98 percent of the country's exports, prompting the IMF in 2011 to warn that the government needed to take action to diversify its economy.

Revealed in the documents seized from Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, were al-Qaeda plots to target oil tankers. Those documents prompted the FBI and U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2011 to issue warnings to the energy sector of a possible al-Qaeda threat.

Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer now working for the Brookings Institution, notes that "al-Qaeda 3.0" is more decentralized than its predecessor and more ready to learn from its past mistakes.

The 9/11 Commission report notes that resentment over oil riches was in part the reason for bin Laden's frustrations in the 1990s when he declared war on the United States. With the Pentagon tilting toward Asia, it's not the West, but the rest, that may have to fight the new war on terror.

— This story originally appeared on Oilprice.com.

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