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Media visit Saudi oil plant damaged in strike blamed on Iran

Smoke billows from Aramco facility in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia after drone strikes set fire to the major oil facilities. Captured by a Planet Dove satellite on September 14, 2019 [Planet/Twitter]

Saudi Arabia on Friday took media on a tour of oil facilities damaged by attacks that Washington and Riyadh blame on Iran, showing melted pipes and burnt equipment, as Tehran vowed wide retaliation if heightened tensions boil over into hostilities, Reuters reports.

The kingdom sees the Sept. 14 strikes on its Khurais and Abqaiq facilities — the worst attack on Gulf oil infrastructure since Iraq’s Saddam Hussein torched Kuwaiti oilfields in 1991 — as a test of global will to preserve international order.

US President Donald Trump said on Friday the United States was imposing sanctions on Iran’s central bank over the attack. US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the bank was Tehran’s last source of funds.

Asked about the possibility of a military response on Iran, Trump said the United States was always prepared and that a military strike was always a possibility.

Iran denies involvement in the attack, which initially halved oil output from Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest petroleum exporter. Responsibility was claimed by Yemen’s Houthi movement, an Iran-aligned group fighting a Saudi-led alliance in Yemen’s four-year-old conflict.

READ: Was Iran really behind the attack on Saudi Aramco facilities?

At Abqaiq, one of the world’s largest oil processing plants, reporters saw a punctured, blackened stabilizer tower that Khalid Buraik, Saudi Aramco vice-president for southern area oil operations, said would have to be replaced.

As reporters examined a shattered separator dome draped with a red tape labelled “Danger”, Buraik said 15 towers and facilities had been hit at Abqaiq, but it would regain full output capacity by the end of September.

At Khurais oilfield to the west, which the Saudi defence ministry says was hit by four missiles, Reuters reporters were shown repair work under way, with cranes erected around two burnt-out stabilisation columns, which form part of oil-gas separation units, and melted pipes.

“We are confident we are going back to the full production we were at before the attack (on Khurais) by the end of September,” Fahad Abdulkarim, Aramco’s general manager for the southern area oil operation, told reporters.

“We are working 24/7…This is a beehive.”

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