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Fires Erupt in Kuwait, Site of Islamic Talks

January 21, 1987|CHARLES P. WALLACE | Times Staff Writer

KUWAIT — Fires believed to have been touched off by terrorist bombs have erupted in three of Kuwait's major oil installations, five days before the start of a conference of Muslim leaders that has been opposed by Iran.

With the war between Iran and Iraq threatening to spill over into this tiny, virtually defenseless Persian Gulf sheikdom at a critical time, Kuwaiti officials mounted a major campaign Tuesday to portray all three Monday night fires as accidental despite their simultaneous occurrence.

According to the Kuwait news agency, "three minor fires" broke out at 11:30 p.m., at a petroleum export terminal several miles offshore in the Persian Gulf, at a well in the Magwa oil field several miles inland and at a crude-oil processing complex north of Magwa.

No injuries were reported in the blazes, which were reportedly contained after two hours. However, the export terminal was said to have been closed as a "precautionary measure."

Gen. Youssef Bader Khorafi, an undersecretary at the Interior Ministry, asserted to reporters that sabotage was not the cause of the fires.

But Western diplomats said the Kuwaitis were trying to avoid scaring away participants from the summit of Muslim nations scheduled to begin here Sunday.

The diplomats said the fires were all caused by explosions, which residents reported hearing from miles away.

"This is the calling card of Iran," said one Western envoy. "They are saying, 'Not only do we not like your conference, but we can cause havoc whenever we want to.' "

The Iranian government has repeatedly insisted that the summit conference not take place in Kuwait because the Kuwaitis are actively supporting Iraq in the six-year-old Persian Gulf War with Iran, its eastern neighbor. Iran--a Muslim but non-Arab nation--says it will not send a high-level delegation.

At the same time, two Lebanese groups believed to have close links with Iran have threatened Kuwait in an effort to have the meeting postponed.

Groups Hold Americans

The groups are the Islamic Jihad (Islamic Holy War) organization and the Revolutionary Justice Organization, which are believed to be holding five Americans as hostages.

Islamic Jihad also has claimed responsibility for a suicide car-bomb attack in May, 1985, that narrowly missed killing Kuwait's ruler, Sheik Jabbar al Ahmed al Sabah.

"In case this summit is held, we might be compelled to stage a negative action for which the loss will cover all, and the biggest loser will be Kuwait--the government, officials and institutions," Islamic Jihad said in a statement delivered to Western news agencies in Beirut.

"The Kuwaitis just want to go through the next 48 hours with no further problems," noted one diplomat.

The Kuwaiti government announced Monday that 27 heads of government are expected to attend the meeting, sponsored by the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Diplomats believe that figure may be considerably lower in light of Iran's latest offensive near Basra, in southeastern Iraq, which has put the fighting uncomfortably close to the Kuwaiti border.

Constant Topic

The war is a source of almost constant conversation here, with the rumble of distant artillery a regular nighttime event in recent days.

In advance of the Islamic summit, security forces have set up roadblocks throughout the capital and begun laying down huge concrete barriers near the American Embassy and hotels that will house conference delegates.

In addition to supporting Iraq in the war, the Kuwaitis are holding 17 Arabs convicted of terrorist bombings against the U.S. and French embassies here in December, 1983.

The prisoners, most of them Iraqis, are believed to belong to a pro-Iranian underground group called Al Daawa. A number of terrorist groups have demanded the prisoners' release.

Concern Over Vulnerability

Regarding the Monday night fires, diplomats said it must be of continuing concern to the Kuwaitis that such strategic installations as oil wells and export terminals could so easily be infiltrated by terrorists.

Last June, a string of explosions, which were then officially blamed on sabotage, rocked the main Mina al Ahmadi refinery 20 miles south of the city. The refinery was knocked out for six weeks.

A group calling itself the Arab Revolutionaries of the Unified Arab Revolution claimed responsibility for the earlier explosions. The government said it has arrested a number of suspects, but they have not been identified.

Diplomats said the bombs that apparently touched off the three latest fires appeared similar to the bombs used last June.

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