- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 20, 2002

The surprise is that the international community, most notably Indonesia, is surprised by the latest spectacular and horrifying terrorist attack in Bali, the idyllic legendary resort island. In the aftermath of September 11, no nation can afford to be surprised by the globalization and brutalization of contemporary terrorism.
Is the worst yet to come? The answer is, unfortunately, yes. Will civilization survive future assaults both conventional and unconventional by individuals, groups and state sponsors of terrorism? The answer is definitely yes, if we want it to. So what should societies do to reduce anticipated risks and bring them to some manageable levels?
To be sure, governments already have developed counterterrorism measures in areas where the perpetrators have been able to do great damage, such as the aviation industry. Also, intensified special precautions to deal with mass destruction threats biological, chemical, nuclear as well as cyber challenges, have been undertaken by governments.
On the other hand, there are many target areas that require nations to pay much greater attention than ever before. One such vulnerability is the maritime environment.
A stark reminder of this "soft target" was the Bali carnage that occurred on the second anniversary of the Oct. 12, 2000, al Qaeda suicide bombing carried out via a boat filled with explosives, crashing into the hull of the USS Cole. This dramatic maritime attack resulted in the killing of 17 and wounding of 39 American sailors during a prearranged fuel stop in Yemen's port of Aden. The impact of this attack must be considered not only in terms of human cost, but also measured by dire political, economic and strategic consequences.
It is noteworthy in this connection to realize that despite Yemen's efforts since the attack on the Cole, to alter its image as a sanctuary for terrorism, the government is unable or unwilling to deal effectively with different terrorist groups in the country. Movements such as the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad; Egypt's al-Gama'a al Islamiya and Islamic Jihad; Algeria's Armed Islamic Group; and al Qaeda are still based in Yemen and present a continuing threat to the region.
Notwithstanding this reality and last month's warnings by U.S. intelligence officials of possible attacks in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea (which carry out approximately one-third of all global oil trade), no apparent upgrading of security has been instituted to protect civilian ships in the area. Indeed, earlier this month, a small fishing craft packed with explosives rammed into the French supertanker Limburg some 12 miles off the coast of Yemen, outside the city of al-Mukalla. That blast ripped a hole in the supertanker, crippled the ship, caused a fire, killed one crew member, injured 12 others, and released 50,000 barrels of crude oil to seep into the sea, along 45 miles of coastline.
The Aden-Abyan Islamic Group, in Yemen, claimed responsibility for the attack, stating that the Limburg was targeted because of its mission "to supply the 5th Fleet [based in Bahrain] for striking the brothers in Iraq." Investigators of the incident believe, however, that the footprints lead to an al Qaeda-linked cell, an affiliated group, or some other extremist Muslim supporters.
This month also marks the 17th anniversary of the Oct. 17, 1985, hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro in the Eastern Mediterranean. The ship, with 180 passengers and 331 crew on board, was held hostage by members of the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF), a constituent part of Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Founded in 1976 with the support of Iraq, PLF's leader Abu al-Abbas (Mahmoud Abbas), who masterminded the hijacking and was responsible for the killing of wheelchair-bound American passenger Leon Klinghoffer, is currently enjoying Baghdad's safe haven. President Saddam Hussein continues to train and provide weapons as well as financial and logistical support to the PLF terrorists in their "armed struggle" against Israel.
At a time when a planned war against Iraq is being considered, it is not far-fetched to assume that the maritime environment might be an attractive target for Saddam's terrorist surrogates with the direct and indirect support of al Qaeda's network in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Should terrorist attacks against oil tankers and other maritime facilities be mounted, they would result in a significant slowdown and even a complete halt to the flow of Middle Eastern oil to consumers in Asia, Europe and the United States. The likely economic and strategic crippling consequences of such events require member states in the coalition of the war against terrorism to provide immediate naval escorts and other appropriate protective shields to ensure the safety of oil tankers and the freedom of the seas. Also, greater security measures must be undertaken to better protect the cruise ship industry that carries more than 6.5 million Americans annually on passenger vessels.
Last, but not least, we must focus special attention on the maritime vulnerability of the homeland. After all, the nation's some 361 ports through which 95 percent of all U.S. trade flows are a particular concern. Adm. James Loy, the newly appointed head of the Transportation Security Administration, recently observed that nearly 7,500 foreign-flag vessels make more than 50,000 port calls annually. Moreover, 6 million loaded containers, 156 million tons of hazardous material and 1 billion tons of petroleum products exit American ports every year.
Attractive targets could also include offshore oil production platforms and pipelines; liquefied natural gas, and liquefied petroleum tankers; offshore nuclear facilities and deep seabed mining operations just to name some others.
Despite this reality, there are few federal standards for maritime protection. And thus far, there is no single federal agency that oversees security in this troubling environment.
In sum, the threats of maritime asymmetric attacks are potentially devastating. The message called by President Kennedy in June 1963 will therefore continue to be instructive to all in the coming months and years: "Control of the seas means security. Control of the seas means peace. Control of the seas can mean victory. The United States must control the sea if it is to protect our security."

Yonah Alexander is professor and Director of the Inter-University Center for Terrorism Studies at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in Arlington. Tyler Richardson is a researcher at the center.


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