April 24, 2004 | Broadcast

NBC Nightly News

Tom, good evening to you.

TOM COSTELLO reporting:

Brian, good evening.

Oil experts say the attack tonight on Iraq’s oil infrastructure is a disturbing development, but terrorism experts say we should not be surprised.

The attacks happened near the al-Basra oil terminal, a critical lynch pin in Iraq’s economic lifeline. The Navy says three boats were involved. The first blast occurred when a coalition warship spotted a small boat near the platform and sent a team to board it. The boat, however, exploded. Two US crew members are reported dead, four others wounded. Two other boats exploded near the oil platform and two tankers anchored nearby. Terrorism experts say the attacks have all the hallmarks of an al-Qaeda operation.

Mr. WALID PHARES (NBC News Terrorism Analyst): As of last summer, al-Qaeda basically said it will attack oil production in Iraq to bring down the future Iraqi economy.

COSTELLO: Al-Qaeda has attacked with boats before in the Persian Gulf. In October of 2000, terrorists used an explosives-packed boat to ram the USS Cole. Seventeen American sailors died. Then in October 2002, the French oil tanker Limburg was attacked off the coast of Yemen, killing one crewman.

While initial reports indicate today’s attack failed to damage the oil terminal, it’s now been shut down. Iraq is almost completely dependent on the southern terminal, exporting almost two million barrels a day. While guerilla attacks on the northern pipelines have left exports through the Turkish port of Ceyhan at a sporadic trickle. Experts now predict oil prices will surge when the markets open on Monday.

Mr. JOHN KILDUFF (Oil Industry Analyst): That fact that this terminal can eve be attacked now sends a worrying tremor throughout the markets, adding to the already jitters of the market and adding to the supply security premium that’s been growing in the price of oil.

COSTELLO: Oil experts are expressing surprise that attackers managed to slip past coalition ships to attack the terminal, given al-Qaeda’s previous attacks in the Gulf and how critically important that terminal is to the area’s recovery. Brian:

WILLIAMS: NBC’s Tom Costello in London for us tonight. Thanks.