2003 January 31 Friday
Freighters Potential Terrorist Attack Vehicle

The nature of the shipping industry provides great opportunities for Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations to move around people and supplies and even to use ships as large weapons delivery vehicles. Ships carrying weapons of mass destruction could be blown up in harbors of densely populated cities. The ownership of many ships is already hidden behind layers of front companies for tax and regulatory reasons. Many sailors are using counterfeit identifications and counterfeit training certificates. Nations that serve as "flags of convenience" do little to regulate and track ships that are registered with their national authorities. The amount being moved by ships is enormous and it is next to impossible to check all incoming cargoes. Besides, if a ship is going to be used to deliver a bomb that will kill people at the harbor then its crew can arrange to have it blown up before the ship would have a chance to be searched unless the ship was searched at sea.

Al Qaeda is already operating a fleet of at least 15 ships. What is curious about this is that even though the US Navy knows the identity of some of those ships it is allowing them to continue sailing. Why is that? One probable reason is that the US and its allies would have a difficult time legally proving (and in the courts of a variety of countries) that a ship really is effectively owned by Al Qaeda. This article provides an indication of the number of difficulties facing US and allied efforts to reduce terrorist use ships.

In August, the captain of another of Nova's freighters, the recently renamed Sara, radioed to maritime authorities in Italy that 15 Pakistani men whom the ship's owner had forced him to take aboard in Casablanca, Morocco, were menacing his crew. Although the 15 claimed they were crewmen when questioned by U.S. and Italian naval officers, the captain said they knew nothing about seafaring.

U.S. officials say they found tens of thousands of dollars, false documents, maps of Italian cities and evidence tying them to al Qaeda members in Europe, and concluded that they, too, were possibly on a terrorist mission. The 15 were charged in Italy with conspiracy to engage in terrorist acts.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 January 31 02:29 PM  Terrorists WMD

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