WASHINGTON Al Qaeda plotted to hijack or sink oil tankers last year to prompt a spike in prices and trigger an economic crisis in the West, U.S. officials said on Friday, in the latest warning based on intelligence from Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan.
The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI sent an intelligence note this week to federal, state and local law enforcement and energy sector companies to alert them to al Qaeda's interest in targeting oil and natural gas infrastructure, they said.
Despite al Qaeda's interest in targeting oil tankers and commercial oil infrastructure at sea, the officials said there was no indication of any specific or imminent terrorist attack being plotted.
Earlier this month, U.S. officials said al Qaeda considered attacking the U.S. rail sector on the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, in describing intelligence from bin Laden's hide-out.
The officials said it was not surprising the United States found ideas for potential terrorists plots involving oil tankers and trains in the information seized by the U.S. Navy SEAL commandos during the raid that killed the al Qaeda leader.
Oil tankers have been of interest to al Qaeda as a potential target for a long time, one U.S. official said.
In 2002, al Qaeda militants bombed a French supertanker, the Limburg, in the Gulf of Aden off the Yemeni coast. One crewman was killed and 90,000 barrels of oil was spilled. Five al Qaeda supporters were sentenced in 2004 to ten years in prison for the plot.
One official said no specific attack method was identified in 2010 involving oil tankers and there was no reference to a specific date or time of the threatened attack.
"We have no information of any imminent terrorist threat to the maritime or energy sectors, but wanted to make our partners aware of the alleged interest," Department of Homeland Security spokesman Matthew Chandler said.
"It is unclear if any further planning has been conducted since mid-last year," he said.
Chandler said there were no plans to issue an alert about an imminent or credible threat.
(Editing by Philip Barbara)