Saudi Arabia on Friday revealed extensive damage to key oil facilities following weekend aerial strikes that were blamed on Iran, but vowed to quickly restore full production even as regional tensions soar.
Yemen’s Tehran-linked Huthi rebels, who on Friday announced a sudden halt to attacks on Saudi Arabia, claimed the strikes on state giant Aramco’s facilities in Khurais and the world’s largest oil processing facility at Abqaiq.
But Washington has pointed the finger at Tehran, condemning an “act of war” which knocked out half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production and on Friday prompted US President Donald Trump to sketch out the latest in a series of economic sanctions against Iran.
Abqaiq was struck 18 times while nearby Khurais was hit four times in a raid that triggered multiple explosions and towering flames that took hours to extinguish, Aramco officials said.
“Many critical areas of the (Abqaiq) plant were hit,” an Aramco official said, pointing out the strikes had a high degree of precision.
A towering stabilisation column, normally silver, had been charred black with a gaping hole blown in the shaft’s base.
A separator plant also appeared ravaged in the raids and was surrounded by scaffolding and white-helmeted workers.
“There are 112 shift workers here in normal times. Now 6,000 workers are involved in restoration work,” said Aramco official Khaled al-Ghamdi, pointing at damaged infrastructure.
Aramco said it was shipping technical equipment from the US and Europe to speed up repairs.
– ‘Coming back stronger’ –
Aramco flew dozens of international journalists to the two sites to show it was speeding up repairs, giving rare access to the nerve centre of the world’s largest oil producer as it seeks to shore up investor confidence ahead of a planned initial public offering (IPO).
“We will have production at the same level as before the strike by the end of this month — we are coming back stronger,” asserted Fahad al-Abdulkareem, an Aramco general manager, during the visit to Khurais.
Badly warped thick metal piping — peppered with shrapnel during the aerial strikes — lay strewn around the area of the Khurais attack.
But Abdulkareem said that 30 percent of the Khurais plant was operational within 24 hours of the initial strikes.
Industry analyst Alex Schindelar, president of the Energy Intelligence group, said that restoring sustainable production capacity to 11 million barrels per day by the end of the month is an “ambitious target, given the amount of repairs required”.
Tehran has denied responsibility for the attacks against the heart of Saudi Arabia’s all-important oil industry, raising the spectre of “all-out war” in the event of retaliatory measures by Washington or Riyadh.
The rhetoric has raised the risk of an unpredictable escalation in a tinderbox region where Saudi Arabia and Iran are locked in a decades-old struggle for dominance.
Chinese President Xi Jinping condemned the attacks but called for restraint during a phone call with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Friday.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday there was “enormous consensus in the region” that Iran executed the attacks, despite its denials and the Yemeni rebels’ claims.
The Huthi rebels announced late Friday “the halt of all attacks against the territory of Saudi Arabia” as a peace initiative to end the country’s devastating conflict. There was no immediate reaction from Saudi authorities.
– Fresh US sanctions –
Huthi rebels have previously hit dozens of targets in Saudi Arabia, and their advancing arsenal has exposed the kingdom’s vulnerability despite vast military spending.
US, French and Saudi officials have disputed the Huthi claims, insisting they do not have the capability to mount such an advanced, coordinated strike.
Trump earlier this week vowed substantial new sanctions against Iran in response to the attacks and told reporters Friday they would target the country’s central bank.
The US Treasury Department said these latest sanctions were linked to “terrorism”, alleging Iran’s central bank had provided “billions of dollars” to two forces blacklisted by Washington.
“Treasury’s action targets a crucial funding mechanism that the Iranian regime uses to support its terrorist network, including the Qods Force, Hezbollah and other militants that spread terror and destabilize the region,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a statement.
The Qods Force conducts international operations for Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, while Hezbollah is a powerful Shiite movement in Lebanon.
The Saudi defence ministry, which has said the attack was “unquestionably sponsored by Iran”, this week unveiled what it said were fragments of 25 drones and cruise missiles fired at the two oil hubs.
US planning to slash troops in Germany: report
US President Donald Trump has ordered the Pentagon to slash the number of troops it maintains in Germany by more than a quarter in the coming months, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
The newspaper said the Defense Department would cut the number of military personnel by 9,500 from the current 34,500 permanently assigned to Germany postings.
The Journal also said a cap of 25,000 would be set on how many US troops could be inside German at any one time, whether in permanent postings or temporary rotations, half of the current allowance.
The move would significantly reduce the US commitment to European defense under the NATO umbrella, though it could also impact Pentagon operations related to Africa and the Middle East.
Manhattan DA announces protesters arrested by NYPD will not be charged: ‘Our office has a moral imperative’
The Manhattan District Attorney announced on Friday that his office would not be prosecuting protesters arrested for low-level crimes.
Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr. announced that Unlawful Assembly and Disorderly Conduct would not be prosecuted during the demonstrations over police violence.
"“The prosecution of protestors charged with these low-level offenses undermines critical bonds between law enforcement and the communities we serve. Days after the killing of George Floyd, our nation and our city are at a crossroads in our continuing endeavor to confront racism and systemic injustice wherever it exists. Our office has a moral imperative to enact public policies which assure all New Yorkers that in our justice system and our society, black lives matter and police violence is a crime. We commend the thousands of our fellow New Yorkers who have peacefully assembled to demand these achievable aims, and our door is open to any New Yorker who wishes to be heard," Vance said in a statement.
Chicago Police Board president files complaint alleging he was struck 5 times by cops at George Floyd protest
On Friday, WTTW reported that Ghian Foreman, the president of the Chicago Police Board, has filed a complaint alleging he was beaten in the legs five times by police officers at a protest against the killing of George Floyd last Sunday.
The Chicago Police Board is an independent civilian commission that has power over police disciplinary cases.
"Foreman filed a complaint with the Citizens Office of Police Accountability alleging that he was struck by at least one officer during a protest sparked by the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police, said Ephraim Eaddy, a spokesperson for the agency," said the report. "Foreman’s complaint, which identifies the officer Foreman said struck him, is one of 344 complaints of police misconduct filed with COPA between midnight May 29 and 7 a.m. Friday, Eaddy said. The complaint itself is confidential."