Saudi Arabia has started setting up a 35,000-strong security force to protect its oil infrastructure from potential terrorist attacks, according to reports.
The move, reported in London’s Financial Times, underlines the kingdom’s growing concern about its oil installations after threats from al-Qaeda to attack facilities in the Gulf, as well as rising tensions between Iran and the US.
The force already numbers about 5000 personnel, a Saudi adviser told the FT.
They are being trained in the use of new surveillance equipment, countermeasures and crisis management under a program managed by US defense group Lockheed Martin, according to the Middle East Economic Survey in Nicosia.
Lockheed declined to comment.
The paper said that the kingdom is investing up to an estimated $5billionn in the new equipment and the force.
The force is expected to reach 35,000 within two or three years.
Saudi Arabia has a 75,000-strong army, an air force of 18,000, a navy of 15,500 and an air defense force of 16,000. Its oil installations are protected from within by 5000 agents employed by state-run producer Saudi Aramco.
Members of the new force, responsible for external and internal security, are being heavily vetted and largely recruited from outside the security forces because of the nature of its task, but it will include members of the existing forces.
Saudi Arabia has intensified a crackdown on Islamist militants since attacks against western residential compounds in 2003.
Washington announced a proposed arms deal last month, estimated to be worth $20billion, with the six countries of the Gulf Co-operation Council, which includes Saudi Arabia, to boost security in the region.
Several attacks have targeted Saudi oil infrastructure but terrorists have failed to disrupt oil shipments and have been successful against only “soft” targets, such as residential compounds and office blocks.
“The (failed suicide bomb) attack in 2006 was a wake-up call to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It saw what it did to the markets, so what would have happened it if had succeeded? Saudi Arabia would have lost all its credibility as the ultimate guarantor of oil stability,” the FT quoted the Saudi adviser as saying.