- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Federal authorities have been searching for a merchant ship carrying a group of al Qaeda terrorists and a large cache of weapons that is believed to be headed for Los Angeles, The Washington Times has learned.
The FBI has been investigating an intelligence report about the ship and a group of up to 40 al Qaeda terrorists on board for the past several weeks, but it has been unable to find the vessel or any similar plot, according to law enforcement and intelligence officials.
An FBI official said investigators can not completely dismiss the threat, although they have "worked through this thing pretty well."
"There's a much greatly reduced concern based on the investigation and the interviews," the official said.
According to the officials, FBI agents in Los Angeles have been investigating the classified intelligence report since it was circulated within the U.S. government in late May.
The intelligence report stated that a group of between 35 and 40 al Qaeda terrorists were heading for the United States to carry out a terrorist operation in Los Angeles. The men were aboard a Middle Eastern-flagged freighter that left a port in the Middle East in May.
The plan called for the ship to unload the terrorists and their weapons near Santa Catalina Island, about 20 miles south of downtown Los Angeles.
U.S. intelligence officials said the merchant ship was on its way from an unidentified port in the Middle East and was due to arrive sometime during the last week in May.
The FBI questioned several suspects in the Los Angeles area last week in an effort to find out about the shipment.
FBI spokesman Mike Kortan said, "At this point, the investigation has not been able to substantiate or otherwise support this information."
The threat of a terrorist attack in Los Angeles comes amid numerous intelligence reports indicating that Islamic terrorists are planning more attacks on the United States.
Intelligence officials have said there are heightened concerns in government about attacks against numerous targets, including commercial aircraft, shopping malls, oil production facilities and subways.
A spokesman for al Qaeda stated in an interview published earlier this month that the terrorist group would strike the United States again.
The spokesman, Suleiman Abu Ghaith, stated in an article published on an Islamic Web site that al Qaeda is working to "strike against the United States," the Dubai-based Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat reported.
"What is in waiting for the Americans will not be inferior to what the United States has already gone through," the terrorist spokesman was quoted as saying. "Let America be prepared to fasten its seat belt because, thanks to God, we are going to surprise it in a place where it is not expecting." Abu Gharith has appeared in the past in television interviews with Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader blamed for the September 11 attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday that U.S. military operations against al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan "instigated a dispersion of these people."
More than 60 nations are working with the United States to track down the terrorists and are "making life difficult for them," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
"And that is a good thing," he said. "They would be doing more terrorist acts were that pressure not on them. They would be raising more money, recruiting more people and killing more innocent men, women and children."


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