BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq foiled an al Qaeda plot to use tanker trucks packed with explosives to attack a key Baghdad oil facility, a senior security official and oil sources said.
The security official declined to name the facility because the investigation was underway but oil ministry officials said the security forces were on high alert following a spate of attacks on a northern pipeline.
Protecting infrastructure for the world’s fourth largest oil reserves is crucial for Iraq as it rebuilds an industry battered by years of war following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and sanctions against former ruler Saddam Hussein.
“We have arrested a key local leader of al Qaeda who organised the plan to launch a major attack against a large oil facility in Baghdad,” a senior anti-terrorism official said.
The security source said insurgents planned to pack explosives into tankers transporting crude oil from southern Basra oilfields to the main oil storage depots inside the major oil facility of Baghdad, where the bombs would be detonated.
“They were planning to put in explosives and booby-trap more than one oil tanker,” he said.
Baghdad oil facilities include the large Doura refinery, East Baghdad oilfield, which currently has limited production of around 10,000 barrels per day to feed Doura, and a gas facility just north of the capital.
Militants often target security forces, and Shi‘ite and Sunni mosques, but attacks on major oil sites beyond pipeline bombings are rarer.
A key pipeline from Iraq’s northern oilfields around Kirkuk to the Turkish port of Ceyhan has been repeatedly attacked by militants over the last month.
Gunmen attacked a gas field operated by Korea Gas Company in April, killing three local contractors.
Violence has spiked since the start of the year as al Qaeda’s local wing, the Islamic State of Iraq, and other Sunni Islamist insurgents stepped up attacks to try to stoke a widescale sectarian conflict.
Iraq expects to boost its oil output to rival the level of top producer Saudi Arabia after awarding some of its most attractive oilfields to global oil companies, including BP (BP.L), Shell (RDSa.AS) and Exxon Mobil (XOM.N).
Editing by Patrick Markey and Jon Boyle