Singapore is trying to blow the whistle on the global threat posed by jihadists taking their terror tactics to the sea.
Minister for Security Tony Tan said attacks on ships by sea pirates in Southeast Asia are resembling military operations – growing bolder, more violent and fuelling fears of an attack that would cripple world trade.
He said the risk of a devastating attack is growing.
“We have been alarmed not only by the increase in the number of pirate attacks in the sea lanes of communication in this part of the world, but also in the nature of the piracy attacks,” said Tan.
The U.S. is considering a plan for a Regional Maritime Security Initiative to tighten surveillance of Southeast Asia’s busy Malacca Strait, through which a third of world trade passes. But, as WND first reported based on information gathered by the premium online intelligence newsletter Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin, the threat of Islamist terrorism on the high seas is worldwide – not limited to one region.
“In previous years when you had a piracy attack, what it meant is that you have a sampan or a boat coming up to a cargo ship, pirates throwing up some ropes, scrambling on board, ransacking the ship for valuables, stealing money and then running away,” Tan told an Asian security forum, according to a report in the Khaleej Times. “But the last piracy attack that took place in the Straits of Malacca showed a different pattern,” he added. The pirates were well armed, operating sophisticated weapons and commanding high-speed boats. “They conducted the operation almost with military precision.”
Tan added: “Instead of just ransacking the ship for valuables, they took command of the ship, and steered the ship for about an hour, and then eventually left with the captain in their captivity. To all of us, this is reminiscent of the pattern by which terrorists mount an attack.”
The International Maritime Bureau says one-third of the 445 cases of recorded pirate attacks last year happened in Indonesian waters, including the Malacca Strait linking trading and oil centers in the Middle East, Asia and Europe.
Singapore has repeatedly warned of the potential link between pirates and religious militant networks such as Jemaah Islamiyah, blamed for the deadly 2002 bomb blasts in the Indonesian island of Bali and widely linked to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida.
“We are concerned that terrorists may seize control of a tanker with a cargo of lethal materials, LNG (liquefied natural gas) perhaps, chemicals, and use it as a floating bomb against our port,” Tan said. “This would cause catastrophic damage, not only to the port but also for people, because our port is located very near to a highly dense residential area. Thousands of people would be killed.”
Malaysia has rejected the use of foreign forces to patrol the area.
“If terrorists were to seize a tanker, a large ship, and sink it into a narrow part of the Straits it will cripple world trade,” Tan said. “It would have the iconic large impact which terrorists seek.”
But it’s not just cargo shipping that terrorists hope to target. Earlier, U.S. intelligence officials said al-Qaida has turned its terror sights to a global sea jihad, targeting Western luxury liners and aircraft carriers.
Owners of the world’s largest cruise ship – the recently launched $1.3 billion Queen Mary 2 – confirmed terror threats hang over its future voyages. U.S. intelligence officials also found evidence bin Laden’s terror network planned to attack the British aircraft carrier Ark Royal as it passed through the Gibraltar Straits en route to the Iraq theater of war earlier this year.
WorldNetDaily exclusively reported Sept. 29, based on intelligence obtained by Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin, that al-Qaida has purchased at least 15 ships in the last two years, creating a veritable terror armada.
G2 Bulletin’s sources said potential targets of the al-Qaida armada include civilian ports, oil rigs and cruise liners.
Lloyds of London reportedly helped Britain’s MI6 and the U.S. CIA trace the sales of the “terror ships” made through a Greek shipping agent suspected of having direct contacts with bin Laden.
The ships fly the flags of Yemen and Somalia – where they are registered – and are capable of carrying cargoes of lethal chemicals, a “dirty bomb” or even a nuclear weapon, according to G2B sources.
The freighters left their home ports in the Horn of Africa in early September, some were believed destined for ports in Asia.
WorldNetDaily reported Oct. 13 on growing warnings around the world that the next dramatic terror attack is more likely to come at sea than in the air.
The attack described by Tan is reminiscent of one last year, in which a chemical tanker, the Dewi Madrim, was hijacked by machinegun-bearing pirates in speedboats off the coast of Sumatra. But these weren’t ordinary pirates looking for booty. These were terrorists learning how to drive a ship. They also kidnapped officers in an effort to acquire expertise on conducting a maritime attack.
There is also evidence terrorists are learning about diving, with a view to attacking ships from below. The Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines kidnapped a maintenance engineer in a Sabah holiday resort in 2000. On his release in June this year, the engineer said his kidnappers knew he was a diving instructor – they wanted instruction. The owner of a diving school near Kuala Lumpur has recently reported a number of ethnic Malays wanting to learn about diving, but being strangely uninterested in learning about decompression.
G2 Bulletin said this is reminiscent of reports that Sept. 11 hijackers who attended U.S. flight schools were only interested in learning how to fly planes, not land.
U.S. intelligence services also believe scores of acoustic sea-mines, found to have disappeared from a naval base in North Korea by a U2 spy plane, could be aboard bin Laden’s “terror ships,” estimated by some sources to number 28.
The capture of al-Qaida’s chief of naval operations, Ahmad Belai al-Neshari, helped reveal the blueprint of the group’s maritime plots. Al-Neshari was found carrying a 180-page dossier that listed large cruise liners sailing from Western ports as “targets of opportunity.”
If a maritime terror attack comes, it won’t be the first. In October 2000, the USS Cole, a heavily armed ship protected with the latest radar defenses, was hit by an al-Qaida suicide crew. Seventeen American sailors died. Two years later, following the attacks on the Twin Towers, a similar attack was carried out against a French supertanker off the coast of Yemen.