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Saudi Arabia claims drone attacks strike major Aramco facility, oilfield

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Image: FILES-SAUDI-OIL-ENERGY-ARAMCO
Aramco has been meeting bankers this week in Dubai as it speeds up plans to float shares as part of efforts to diversify the economy of the world's top oil exporter away from crude. -
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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Drones attacked the world's largest oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia and a major oilfield operated by Saudi Aramco early Saturday, the kingdom's Interior Ministry said, sparking a huge fire at a processor crucial to global energy supplies.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks in Buqyaq and the Khurais oil field, though Yemen's Houthi rebels previously launched drone assaults deep inside of the kingdom.

It wasn't clear if there were any injuries in the attacks, nor what effect it would have on oil production in the kingdom.

The attack will also likely heighten tensions further across the wider Persian Gulf amid a confrontation between the U.S. and Iran over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.

Fires began after the sites were "targeted by drones," the Interior Ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency. It said an investigation into the attack was underway.

NBC News could not verify the claims.

Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil giant, did not immediately respond to questions from The Associated Press. The kingdom hopes soon to offer a sliver of the company in an initial public offering.

Saudi Aramco describes its Abqaiq oil processing facility in Buqyaq, some 205 miles northeast of the Saudi capital Riyadh, as "the largest crude oil stabilization plant in the world."

The facility processes sour crude oil into sweet crude, then later transports onto transshipment points on the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. Estimates suggest it can process up to 7 million barrels of crude oil a day.

The plant has been targeted in the past by militants.

Aramco has been meeting bankers this week in Dubai as it speeds up plans to float shares as part of efforts to diversify the economy of the world\'s top oil exporter away from crude.
Aramco has been meeting bankers this week in Dubai as it speeds up plans to float shares as part of efforts to diversify the economy of the world\'s top oil exporter away from crude.STRINGER

The Khurais oil field is believed to produce over 1 million barrels of crude oil a day. It has estimated reserves of over 20 billion barrels of oil, according to Aramco.

There was no immediate impact on global oil prices as markets were closed for the weekend across the world.

While no group immediately claimed the attacks, suspicion immediately fell on Yemen's Houthi rebels.

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 U.S.-based Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, or ACLED, which tracks the conflict.

Since the start of the Saudi-led war, Houthi rebels have been using drones in combat.

The rebels have flown drones into the radar arrays of Saudi Arabia's Patriot missile batteries, according to Conflict Armament Research, disabling them and allowing the Houthis to fire ballistic missiles into the kingdom unchallenged.

U.N. investigators said the Houthis' new UAV-X drone, found in recent months, likely has a range of up to 930 miles. That puts the far reaches of Saudi Arabia in range.

The Houthi's Al-Masirah satellite ews channel did not immediately acknowledge the attack Saturday, though it said the spokesman of the Houthi's armed forces would soon give a speech on "a major operation," without elaborating.