US blames Iran for attack on Saudi Arabia

Hannah Strange
The Abqaiq plant is said to be the largest crude oil processing facility in the world  - VIDEOS OBTAINED BY REUTERS

America has blamed Iran for the drone strikes on two Saudi Arabian oil installations including the world’s largest processing facility. 

The attacks on the Abqaiq plant and Khurais oilfield were said to have cut the kingdom’s output in half. 

Yemen's Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran, had claimed responsibility, with a spokesman saying: "The only option for the Saudi government is to stop attacking us."

The Abqaiq plant is said to be the largest crude oil processing facility in the world  Credit: Reuters

The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen immediately responded with two airstrikes in the country’s northern Saada province, a Houthi stronghold.

But later on Saturday Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, said there was "no evidence" the attacks came from Yemen and instead pointed the finger directly at Iran. 

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo  Credit: REUTERS

"Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply," Mr Pompeo tweeted. 

He added: "We call on all nations to publicly and unequivocally condemn Iran’s attacks."

It marks a further escalation further escalation in the years-long conflict seen as a proxy war between Riyadh and Tehran. 

Online videos showed large fires and plumes of smoke at Abqaiq – which processes a significant share of the world’s oil supply. 

The kingdom later appeared to be playing down the impact, saying blazes had been brought under control and maintaining official silence on the extent of the damage. 

State television said exports were continuing. But sources said the attacks had significantly disrupted operations in the world’s largest oil exporter. 

One said they had shut down some five million barrels a day of crude production – almost half the kingdom’s output and roughly five per cent of that of the world. 

It is unclear how long the shutdown will last, but anything but the briefest disruption could have a serious impact on global energy supplies and prices. 

The attacks on the two facilities also come as state oil giant Saudi Aramco prepares for an initial public offering, part of an attempt by Crown Prince Mohammed bin-Salman to reduce the country's economic reliance on the commodity.

The Abqaiq plant processes sour crude oil into sweet crude and transports it onto shipment points on the Persian Gulf and Red Sea. Estimates suggest it can process up to 7 million barrels of crude oil a day - equating to almost nine percent of the world's average daily production this year.

It is not the first time it has been targeted by militants: in 2006, Al-Qaida claimed a failed suicide bomb attack on the complex. 

The Khurais oil field is the country's second largest and is believed to produce more than 1 million barrels of crude oil a day - 1.25 percent of the 2019 global supply. 

Previous Houthi strikes against Saudi facilities - on Shaybah oilfield last month and two oil pumping stations in May - caused fires but did not disrupt production. 

More than 90,000 people have died in Yemen's war and resulting famine, which began after the Houthi Shia rebels ousted the internationally-recognised government. 

Saudi Arabia, as well as other Gulf Arab nations, the UN and the West, say Iran is backing the Houthis with weapons and logistical support, a charge Tehran denies. The Houthis insist they are not Iranian puppets and are instead fighting a corrupt regime. 

The Saudi-led coalition has been accused by UN investigators and human rights groups of violations that could amount to war crimes.