Iran on Tuesday rejected “ridiculous” allegations that it carried out this month’s attack on Saudi oil infrastructure, after the leaders of France, Germany and Britain backed US conclusions that Tehran was responsible. “These allegations, which lack evidence, are based solely on a ridiculous rationale that ‘there is no other possible explanation’,” Iran’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
The September 14 blasts at the Abqaiq and Khurais facilities temporarily knocked out half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production. Abqaiq was struck 18 times while Khurais, 200 kilometres southwest, was hit four times in a raid sparking fires that took five hours to extinguish, Aramco officials said.
"Many critical areas of the (Abqaiq) plant were hit," an Aramco official said, declining to be named.
A stabilisation column, normally silver, had been charred black with a gaping hole blown in the shaft's base. A separator plant was also badly damaged in the raids and was surrounded by scaffolding.
"There are 112 shift workers here in normal times. Now 6,000 workers are involved in restoration work," said Aramco official Khaled al-Ghamdi, pointing at damaged infrastructure.
The site visits to both Khurais and Abqaiq gave rare access to the nerve centre of the world's largest oil producer, with Aramco flying in journalists to show the extent of damage and the ongoing clean-up.
"We will have production at the same level as before the strike by the end of this month -- we are coming back stronger," asserted Fahad al-Abdulkareem, an Aramco general manager, during the visit to Khurais.
Badly warped thick metal piping -- peppered with shrapnel during the aerial strikes -- lay strewn around the area of the Khurais attack. But Abdulkareem said that 30 per cent of the Khurais plant was operational within 24 hours of the initial strikes.
Earlier, US President Donald Trump had said it "looks" like Iran was behind the explosive attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities. However, Trump ruled out any military retaliation for now to the strike against a key US Mideast ally.
A Saudi-led coalition has been battling the rebels since March 2015. The Iranian-backed Houthis hold Yemen's capital, Sanaa, and other territory in the Arab world's poorest country.
The war has become the world's worst humanitarian crisis. The violence has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine and killed more than 90,000 people since 2015, according to the US-based Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, or ACLED, which tracks the conflict.