Six years ago, Al Qaeda attempted to strike at the Abqaiq facility. The attack, which occurred on 24th February, 2006 was thwarted by the Saudi security forces. Two insurgents, Muhammed Al-Gaith and Abdullah Al-Tuwaijri had planned to detonate truck bombs inside the complex, but were intercepted by the security guards outside the facility. The attackers detonated the explosives immediately, resulting in the death of both the attackers and two of the guards. Several guards were also seriously injured, but fortunately no serious injury was reported among the Aramco staff. The facility suffered no damage, as the explosion occurred several hundreds of meters outside its fence.
Not only the KSA, but also the US is concerned in any renewed attack on the Abqaiq facility. Even after the failed attack of 2006, the crude prices jumped by as much as $3 per barrel in a single day. Attacks against the petroleum facilities are nothing new in KSA. In 2004, 22 people (mostly expatriates) were killed in Al Khobar, when militants attacked a residential quarters belonging to the oil workers. Even a rumour about an alleged attack on the Ras Tanura Refinery spiked the oil prices by three percent in last March. Prices only normalized when the Saudi authorities denied that there is any truth in the rumour.
Abqaiq’s facility processes close to 5 million barrels of crude per day (60% of the total Saudi production). The raw crude is first processed in the Gas Oil Separation Plants (GOSPs) outside the facility, and then the resulting sour crude (crude oil containing sulphurous impurities) is pumped to Abqaiq. The sour crude contains the gas Hydrogen Sulfide, which is both toxic and corrosive. Inside the facility, the crude is stabilized (by removing the corrosive gas). The purified crude is then pumped to the coastal city of Ras Tanura, which lies along the Persian Gulf. The facility also stabilizes Natural Gas Liquids (NGL).
Another headache for the Saudi authorities is the growing unrest amongst the Shiite minority living there. The Eastern province, where facilities like Abqaiq, Dammam and Ras Tanura are located, a significant part of the population is Shiite Arab. Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of trying to incite violence among the Shiites.
The 35,000 strong FCF, which was created to guard large scale crude oil and other industrial facilities against insurgent attacks, is being headed by the assistant interior minister Muhammad bin Nayef. The minister has survived an attempt against his life in 2009, in Jeddah.