The terrorist operation that targeted the In Aménas gas field in Algeria demonstrates the necessity of tightening security in oil and gas fields across the world. Security should be tightened not only because they are home to a country’s most vital resources, but also because of the dangers they pose, whether directly or indirectly, to the innocent people who might lose their lives in the case of an attack or who could be affected in any way. Algeria was able to eliminate extremist terrorist groups that targeted its oil fields in the 1990s and that operated under the banner of Islam. But the In Aménas operation revealed a loosening of security measures in addition of course to assistance provided by some terrorist groups from inside the complex. The reaction of the Algerian government was the only way to counter those groups and preempt any future operation despite the tragic consequences and the number of deaths. It was a tough decision, but what would a country do when faced with such a threat to its people and resources?
A history of sabotage
Several oil fields in the Middle East have been targeted by terrorist operations and many of those were not able to restore their past production rates like the Iraqi-Turkish pipeline, which was constantly sabotaged, as well as many export ports in the country. Another type of terrorism also emerged with data sabotage like what happened in the Saudi company Aramco, which was able to restore its information systems after a failure that lasted for more than a month. We cannot also forget the oil fields fires during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait during the rule of late President Saddam Hussein. There is no doubt that oil and gas fields have always been the target of terrorism operations. Gulf nations, which are rich in oil and gas reserves, are specifically aware of this danger and that is why they tighten security in such strategic locations.
True there are questions about the responsibility of British Petroleum, the company that operates the Algerian field, and the security measures it took to protect the site. But the circumstances of the terrorist operation are also shrouded in mystery especially as far as possible collaboration from inside the targeted region is concerned. As a result of this tragic incident, several foreign companies asked their staff to leave the area either to go to Algiers, like the French company Total, or to leave Algeria altogether.
This operation also sheds light on another critical issue: the growth of terrorism in Tunisia, from which several of the terrorists came. Both Tunisia and Libya have become terrorist hotbeds and the situation is the Maghreb is generally volatile. But oil and gad fields are always at risk and this requires the highest degrees of awareness.
This article was published on al-Hayat newspaper on Jan. 30, 2013.
(Randa Takieddine is a Lebanese writer and the director of Al-Hayat newspaper office in Paris.)