- The Washington Times - Monday, March 22, 2010

The Navy is warning ships sailing in waters near Yemen that al Qaeda is planning seaborne attacks similar to the 2000 suicide boat bombing of the USS Cole.

A warning notice posted on the Web site of the Office of Naval Intelligence and dated March 10 stated that the alert was issued to promote security for shipping companies and other vessels transiting the piracy-plagued region.

“Information suggests that al Qaeda remains interested in maritime attacks in the Bab-al-Mandeb Strait, Red Sea, and the Gulf of Aden along the coast of Yemen,” the special advisory notice stated.

A U.S. counterterrorism official said the warning was intended to boost awareness of the threat of al Qaeda attacks such as the Cole, which killed 17 U.S. sailors, and a later attack on a French oil tanker that killed one crew member.

“Extremists on the Arabian Peninsula continue to look to maritime interests as possible terrorist targets,” the official said.

According to the warning notice, the exact method of any planned attack is not known but it “may be similar in nature to the attacks against the USS Cole in October 2000 and the M/V Limburg in October 2002, where a small to mid-size boat laden with explosives was detonated.”

More sophisticated attack methods could include missiles or projectiles fired at ships.

“Although the time and location of such an attack are unknown, ships in the Red Sea, Bab-al-Mandeb Strait, and the Gulf of Aden along the coast of Yemen are at the greatest risk of becoming targets of such an attack,” the report said.

The danger zone for the attack is near Yemen, and all vessels in the region were urged to operate at a heightened state of security, including the use of 24-hour visual and radar watches.

“Vessels are at greatest risk in areas of restricted maneuverability, and while in [or] near port or at anchor,” the notice said.

Merchant vessels were requested to report any suspicious activity to the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations office in Dubai.

The area covered by the warning has been one of the most active areas for Somalia-based pirate attacks, though targeting by Islamist extremists has been rare in recent years. According to government anti-piracy reports, there were 23 pirate attacks or suspected pirate incidents against ships in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Bab-al-Mandeb Strait, and western Indian Ocean waters near Africa and the Middle East in the past two months.

Samir al-Abdali, an analyst at the Yemen Center for Research and Studies, said the increased al Qaeda presence in Yemen and Somalia is aimed at controlling and closing the strategic Red Sea, a major shipping route.

Mr. al-Abdali said the Red Sea straits, islands and strategic corridors are centers of a “tug of war” between the United States, Israel and the West on one side and al Qaeda on the other.

“Though I doubt the organization’s ability to control the Red Sea, I still believe that is it a warning of the organization’s ability and plans for the coming stage to deliver sporadic and painful blows to Western interests in the Red Sea, Bab-al-Mandeb Strait, and Gulf of Aden and to the Israeli bases in Eritrea, similar to what happened to USS Cole and the French destroyer Limburg,” he told the London-based Internet daily news outlet Ilaf.com on Feb. 16.

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