Terrorism: June 13, 2002


: The small boat attack on the USS Cole in October 2000 that killed 17 American sailors has become a template for a terrorist threat against United States and allied naval vessels. From Singapore to Morroco to United States' waters, the terrorists have been planning a similar attack. The FBI and intelligence agencies now want law enforcement authorities and civilians on the home front to be vigilant for suspicious activity, particularly involving kayaks and SCUBA gear.

By late May, unidentified Middle Easterners had made several telephone requests over the preceding weeks to a Seattle underwater supply company. Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz reported in geostrategy-direct.com that US intelligence officials described the callers from an unnamed Middle Eastern country. They had requested underwater equipment and training, as well as attempting to purchase specialized underwater equipment (including re-breathing apparatus and mini-submarines of the type used by special operations commandos).

The FBI determined that various terrorist elements sought to develop an offensive scuba diver capability, but had no evidence of operational planning to utilize scuba divers to carry out attacks within the United States. This prompted the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center to alert the public to the possible threat of attacks carried out by scuba divers (Information Bulletin 02-006) on 23 May 2002. Dive shops around the United States told the press that FBI agents had contacted them, asking if anyone of Middle Eastern decent had taken scuba lessons in the last three years. They also wanted to know if any suspicious people had purchased scuba equipment.

On 7 June, CBS-affiliate KYW reported that an FBI alert that a kayak distributor told said that several men of Middle Eastern descent tried to buy four kayaks last month. The distributor, next to the port of Los Angeles, told the Coast Guard that the men wanted only a 850-pound load capacity kayak. The alert adds that the same men tried to buy kayaks before that at the same distributor. 

The Coast Guard Marine Safety Office Puget Sound was the first to issue a notice warning of "a credible threat to maritime interests from swimmers and divers", at 18.00 hours PST on 8 June. This nation-wide advisory went to local Coast Guard units, who then notified port authorities, marine patrols and the maritime industry. The Coast Guard offered specific actions on what ports could do to increase security, but would not elaborate on the nature of the warning nor specific security measures.

On 9 June, the Straits Times and Associated Press reported that Singapore's Internal Security Department (ISD) had recently revealed that the Lebanese Hizbollah terrorist group had plotted to bomb American and Israeli ships docked in Singapore. The original plan was to fill a small boat with explosives and ram it into a ship in the Singapore Straits or in harbor. The ISD said that Hizbollah operatives had recruited five Singaporean Muslims in the 1990's, who were to assist with surveillance and logistics. The Hizbollah cell was still active as late as 1998, scouting possible targets. They planned to use an island close to Singapore as a base for their attacks. 

On 10 June, Morocco arrested three Saudi-born al Qaeda members (who range in age from 25 and 35), who had been preparing to carry out "terrorist attacks" on U.S. and British ships in the Straits of Gibraltar. The suspects planned to sail a dinghy loaded with explosives from Morocco into the strait to attack NATO warships, mainly US and British ships from the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. There successful counterintelligence operation was that result of close cooperation between US, British, French, Spanish and "other" Western and Arab intelligence services.

Civilians CAN do something during this summer season, when many folks are out pleasure boating. Coast Guard spokesman Commander Jim McPherson asked anyone noticing suspicious maritime activity should call the Coast Guard at 1-800-424-8802. The NIPC also encourages individuals to report information concerning suspicious activity to their local FBI office, http://www.fbi.gov/contact/fo/fo.htm or the NIPC, and to other appropriate authorities. Individuals may report incidents online at http://www.nipc.gov/incident/cirr.htm, and can reach the NIPC Watch and Warning Unit at (202) 323-3205, 1-888-585-9078, or nipc.watch@fbi.gov. - Adam Geibel

The United States Coast Guard Auxiliary needs volunteers!


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