Monday, December 13, 2004

Al Qaida to Attempt Major Maritime Attack

LONDON (Reuters) - Al Qaeda will attempt an attack on a key maritime target in the next 12 months with potentially devastating economic consequences, UK security experts said on Friday.

"The maritime sector remains extremely vulnerable to terrorism and we expect an attempted attack on a significant maritime target in 2005," British security firm Aegis Defense Services said in its annual terrorism report.

Al Qaeda's ability to launch an attack has been made easier by the conflict in Iraq (news - web sites), which has provided "an opportunity for a new generation of mujahadin to learn warcraft," Aegis added.

"I completely agree with this," said Paul Beaver, an independent defense analyst. He said any attack would "probably be on an oil-related maritime target or on a cruise liner, both because of their economic importance."


The warning comes just months after Britain's top navy officer issued a similar warning that al Qaeda would try to attack merchant shipping in a bid to disrupt world trade.


The shipping industry carries more than 90 percent of the world's traded goods and its vulnerability has been highlighted by past attacks. In 2002, extremists linked to al Qaeda attacked the French supertanker the Limburg off Yemen and in 2000 the bombing of the USS Cole (news - web sites) killed 17 U.S. navy personnel.


Richard Scott, the Naval editor of Jane's Defense Weekly, said he was not aware of an imminent threat to targets at sea but agreed it was a risk the industry had to keep addressing.


"It's no secret that the maritime community as a whole is more aware of the terrorist threat and has taken some measures but understands there is a way to go yet."


(Additional reporting by Lucille Herve
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