US President Barack Obama thanked the country’s top spy agency on Friday for helping track down and kill former al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden as documents seized from the Abbottabad compound revealed that his group considered hijacking and blowing up oil tankers to provoke an “extreme economic crisis” in the west.
Obama also warned that the al Qaeda threat was far from over. “Make no mistake. This is not over ...,” Obama told members of the intelligence community gathered at Central Intelligence Agency headquarters. “We walked off with his files – the largest treasure trove ever seized from a terrorist leader.”
Standing before a memorial wall covered in stars to honour members of the CIA killed in the line of duty, Obama said every al Qaeda leader should be “watching his back.”
The CIA shared a significant part of the blame for the intelligence failures that allowed bin Laden to plot the September 11 attacks against the United States, which dealt its reputation and morale a severe blow.
But Obama said the work the CIA had done to track down bin Laden had made a critical difference to the success of the May 2 mission of US Navy SEAL commandos to kill him in Pakistan.
He said the agency’s secret and generally thankless contribution had been recognised.
“You’re often the first ones to get the blame when things go wrong and you’re always the last ones to get the credit when things go right,” Obama said.
Al Qaeda wanted to blow up oil tankers
“Al Qaeda sought information on the size and construction of oil tankers in non-Muslim seas,” the Guardian said, citing documents seized from Bin Laden’s hideout. It had established it would be easier to destroy the vessels by taking bombs on board, due to the strength of the hulls, and test runs had been recommended, the FBI said.
However, US officials said there was no “specific or imminent threat”. An oil tanker holds about two million barrels of oil, enough to supply world demand for only about a half hour.
The Department of Homeland Security said: “In 2010 there was continuing interest by members of al-Qaeda in targeting oil tankers and commercial oil infrastructure at sea.” The plot was described as “aspirational” and in its early stages.
The Guardian said the threat to oil tankers suggests that al-Qaeda was adopting the strategy of Somali pirates, who have had remarkable success in recent years using small boats to race alongside and board large commercial ships off the East African coast. They hold the cargo and crew for economic ransom.
With input from the news desk
Published in The Express Tribune, May 21st, 2011.
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