Monday, October 11, 2004

SEATTLE (AP) — Federal authorities suspect that Washington state’s ferry system has been under surveillance as a potential terrorist target.

An FBI assessment determined that 19 suspicious incidents reported by law-enforcement officers, ferry workers and passengers since the September 11 attacks were highly likely or extremely likely to involve terrorist surveillance, the Seattle Times reported Sunday.

“We may well be the target of pre-operational terrorist planning,” said U.S. Attorney John McKay.

Mr. McKay and other security officials said the assessment helped prompt new security requirements that began Saturday on the Washington ferries, the nation’s largest ferry system.

Suspicious incidents have included persons’ asking questions about ferry operations or taking photos of stairwells, car decks and workers, according to a document obtained by the Times.

A man who is a subject of an FBI terrorism investigation is suspected of involvement in three incidents: one, two days after the September 11 attacks in which authorities say he videotaped an oil refinery, a bridge and Navy flight operations; a second, involving the videotaping of a ferry’s car deck in September 2003; and a third, the next day, in which a ferry was videotaped as it was loaded and unloaded.

Patrick Adams, Seattle FBI special agent in charge, said he does not think that the man poses “an immediate threat to anyone here in the Seattle area,” but declined to elaborate.

Edmund Kiley, chief of security for Washington State Ferries, said security is better than in past years. Thousands of cars are screened daily by explosives-detecting dogs, Mr. Kiley said, and more Washington State Patrol troopers are present.

In late 1999, a terrorist plot was thwarted when an Algerian man with a car full of explosives was arrested in Port Angeles, Wash., as he left a ferry from British Columbia.

Ahmed Ressam, who had trained at Osama bin Laden’s terrorism camps in Afghanistan, was convicted of plotting a terrorist attack on Los Angeles International Airport during millennium celebrations.

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