The ISIS threat

John Bradbury

October 1, 2015

While much of SPE Offshore Europe focused on the North Sea, there was also a strong global focus, via UK Trade and Industry’s country briefings, as well as keynote sessions looking at global security issues. John Bradbury sat in on the “Security of staff and assets” keynote.

Oil and gas assets in the Middle East and Africa are facing an increase threat from ISIS a security expert has warned, as the group grows and seeks to acquire new territory.

Al-Qaida and jihadist expert Aymen Ali Dean told delegates on day two of SPE Offshore Europe during one of the keynote sessions how Al-Qaida has become more dangerous since 2004-6 when its ideology prompted a change in strategy.

“If you took 10 Al-Qaida leaders in 2004-5 and asked what they wanted, you would get 20 different answers,” Dean told show delegates. Today, he said, the organization has featured a lack of discipline and commitment from recruits.

But its approach has been refined, and today the Islamic State group (ISIS) and jihadists pose a threat to the security of the energy industry, delegates heard.

But the organization’s logic has dictated that no jihad – holy war – can exist without an Imam, and an Imam cannot exist without a state, and that therefore a state and an Imam have to exist first, before a jihad – directed against the West – can be pursued, explaining why ISIS is now seeking to establish a Caliphate or Islamic state, within Syria and Iraq.

Dean said there has been a shift from a global to a regional jihad, he said in countries like Yemen today, where there is an ample supply of weapons – typically four pieces of equipment to every individual, as well as energy resources.

“There are implications for every industrialized nation as they have an obsession and desire to control energy resources in both old and new territories,” Dean said. “ISIS doesn’t only seek to acquire resources, they also destroy them,” he said, citing the example of the Baiji complex, Iraq’s largest refinery north of Baghdad. Pipelines and refineries are also susceptible to attack, he said.

ISIS also poses a further threat to the energy industry delegates heard: “ISIS also seeks to recruit from inside the industry, to establish connections and to gather intelligence,” Dean disclosed. And why? Dean said it was because between US$200-600 million of revenue was at stake, from captured and producing energy assets.

“As long as there is oil in the market that is half the price or even a third of the price, someone will buy it,” Dean said.

One of the largest buyers of crude oil produced from energy assets already controlled by ISIS is the regime in Damascus, Dean revealed, where it is used for power generation, and for lighting.

ISIS will seek to gain more territory, gain more control, Dean said. “...resulting in more people going over to them. Territory is the most important end-game.”

And just to underline the preoccupation with security, bags were checked on entry to this particular conference session and a police presence was in evidence prior to the start.

Dean himself is a jihadist expert, who has studied the rise of Al-Qaida, the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and he has also worked as a counter-terrorism adviser and the author of a study on terrorist financing.