- The Washington Times - Friday, May 31, 2002

The U.S. government has alerted airlines and law enforcement agencies that new intelligence indicates that Islamic terrorists have smuggled shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles into the United States.
Classified intelligence reports circulated among top Bush administration policymakers during the past two weeks identified the missiles as Russian-made SA-7 surface-to-air missiles or U.S.-made Stinger anti-aircraft missiles obtained covertly in Afghanistan, said intelligence officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Authorities are looking for three types of "manpads," or man-portable, air-defense systems, including SA-7s and Stingers, the officials said.
The SA-7s have a range of more than 3 miles and can hit aircraft flying at 13,500 feet. Stinger missiles can hit aircraft flying at 10,000 feet and 5 miles away.
The FBI sent out an intelligence alert two weeks ago warning about the missiles. The officials said the warning is based on intelligence and not a specific threat that the missiles are in the United States.
"We don't have information that al Qaeda is planning to use these against commercial aircraft in the United States," an FBI official said. "However, we are passing the information along for people to remain alert to the potential use."
The official said an FBI intelligence alert was sent to law-enforcement authorities about two weeks ago and that airlines were notified on May 22.
As a result of the "recent apparent targeting of U.S.-led military forces in Saudi Arabia, law-enforcement agencies in the United States should remain alert to potential use of manpads against U.S. aircraft," the FBI said.
Other intelligence officials spoke of concerns that the missiles had been smuggled into the United States.
Senior Pentagon officials also were briefed recently on the threat posed by shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles smuggled into the United States.
Officials said the intelligence reports followed the discovery earlier this month of an empty SA-7 launcher near a desert base used by U.S. air forces in Saudi Arabia. The launcher was found by Saudi security police near Prince Sultan Air Base, near Riyadh, the Saudi capital.
The Saudis could not determine whether the launcher had fired a missile, and they destroyed it before U.S. military or intelligence officials could examine it.
One official said that intelligence report was given credence by Abu Zubaydah, the al Qaeda organization's operations chief, who was captured in Pakistan in March and who has been providing information about the terrorist group.
A U.S. official also said the portable missiles, which can be carried in small crates, "are fairly light and not difficult to obtain on the gray market."
"It's conceivable that terrorists could get them," the official said. "It is one of a number of possible threats that we need to be mindful and concerned about."
Officials said another worry was an interview in an Arabic-language newspaper with a senior al Qaeda terrorist. Abd-al-Azim al-Muhajir, a senior commander, told a reporter for London's Al-Sharq al Awsat in Pakistan last week that the terrorist group is planning a major attack against the United States.
Al-Muhajir said U.S. military operations in Afghanistan have "changed the nature of the action in the field, media appearances and training centers." However, he insisted, al Qaeda is not "finished."
Asked about new attacks against the United States, al-Muhajir said: "We pray to God, the glorified and exalted, to help us in the coming stage, that is the 'guerrilla warfare,' and in dealing with the aircraft. Thanks be to God that we have taken big strides in this."
Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon that U.S. military forces are on alert for attacks by portable missiles.
"We take very seriously the fact that our opponents do have surface-to-air missiles, shoulder-fired surface-to-air-missiles," Gen. Pace said. "And we take precautions on the ground and in the air any time we have our aircraft arriving or departing."
He said there were no reports of U.S. aircraft taking surface-to-air missile fire in Saudi Arabia after the discovery of the SA-7 launcher.
"That does not mean it was not fired; it simply means we do not know if that particular weapon was fired at that location or simply dropped off there," he said.


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