A statement purportedly from Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian extremist thought to have ties to Osama bin Laden, claimed responsibility Monday for the suicide boat attack on Iraq’s main oil terminals over the weekend.
A U.S. Coast Guardsman, making him the third U.S. service member killed in the blasts Saturday evening. Four other Americans were wounded.
“We give you good tidings. ... Your brothers with their boats targeted oil tankers in Mina al-Amiq and Mina al-Bakr,” said the statement, which was signed with al-Zarqawi’s name and was published on the Muntada al-Ansar Islamist Web site.
The message said strikes against U.S.-led forces in Iraq would not stop. “Let the whole world hear this: We have brought you a people who love death just as you love life ... and there will be many attacks and operations, God willing.”
The statement compared the attack on the Basra terminal to the bombing in 2000 of the U.S. warship Cole in Yemen’s Aden port, which killed 17 U.S. sailors and which was blamed on al Qaida.
It was not immediately possible to verify the authenticity of the statement posted on the Web site, which has previously carried statements attributed to bin Laden’s al-Qaida network.
A U.S. counterterrorism official told NBC News’ Robert Windrem that while al-Zarqawi’s group, Ansar al-Islam, was often referred to as an al-Qaida-linked group, al-Zarqawi was not known to have sworn personal loyalty to bin Laden, a requirement for membership in al-Qaida. In addition, while al-Zarqawi has sought al-Qaida’s help on occasion, he and his group treasure their independence, the official said.
The attack knocked Iraq’s two largest terminals out of commission, costing the country almost 1 million barrels of oil exports the first full day of the stoppage, Iraqi Oil Minister Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulloum said Sunday. The lost exports would have been worth about $28 million.
The al-Basra terminal, previously known as Mina al-Bakr, accounts for 85 percent of Iraq’s crude exports.
Link to al-Qaida?
Bahr al-Ulloum said the blasts, the first maritime attacks against Iraqi oil facilities in the Persian Gulf, bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida. Insurgents already have repeatedly attacked a northern pipeline that carries crude oil to Turkey.
“Those who are carrying out these terror actions don’t want ... prosperity for Iraq,” Bahr al-Ulloum said.
U.S. military officials in the gulf were sending a team of investigators to determine the launching point of the attacks.
Asked whether the attackers arrived at the port by traveling from inside Iraq or from neighboring Iran or Kuwait, Navy Cmdr. James Graybeal, a spokesman for 5th Fleet headquarters in Bahrain, said: “That’s what were trying to determine.”
The Khawr al-Amaya Oil Terminal was damaged but was working again Sunday morning, with a loss of about 350,000 barrels of production, al-Ulloum said.
The attack damaged the electrical generators at the larger al-Basra terminal, which pumps about 700,000 barrels per day of Iraq’s total exports of 1.6 million barrels a day. It did not .
“Luckily there were no Iraqi casualties and the attackers did not manage to hit vital installations,” Barh-Ulloum told Reuters.
Steve Wright, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said southern oil facilities had not been subject to successful sabotage attacks for months.
“This is Iraq, and one expects problems. But we have been pretty successful. The Basra terminal is very well protected,” Wright said.
But the loss of the terminal’s production still cost Iraq almost $20 million a day at a time when the country is desperately in need of revenues to rebuild its shattered infrastructure. And oil prices rose sharply Monday on world markets amid fears of more attacks on the country’s oil infrastructure.
Attack kills 3
The attack began when three dhows, small boats often used in the gulf, pulled near the terminals in waters about 100 miles off Iraq’s port of Umm Qasr. The dhows exploded when they were approached by teams that were sent to intercept them. The dhow near Khawr al-Amaya flipped over a U.S. Navy interception craft, killing two sailors and wounding five others.
The two other dhows exploded about 50 yards from the al-Basra terminal when interception teams fired on at least one of them, Bahr al-Ulloum said. The blast damaged generators at the terminal necessary for loading and unloading tankers, he said.
About 160,000 barrels a day are currently being exported from the north. Another 700,000 barrels a day are shipped through Khawr al-Amaya, which opened two months ago. The rest goes through the Basra terminal, Bahr al-Ulloum said.
Al-Ulloum said the oil ministry expects to soon boost security at oil installations.
The Basra terminal was repeatedly bombed during Iraq’s 1980-88 war with Iran, when the countries’ armies targeted each other’s oil exports. Iraq renovated the port in 1992, but U.N. sanctions on the export of oil kept it shuttered until 1996.