1. Container Stowaway Terrorists Steal into America

In the last two months, between 75 and 125 operatives of the fundamentalist terror network, al Qaeda, are known to have illegally penetrated the United States, mostly through American ports. Many more are estimated to have slipped through unbeknownst to US authorities.

On Monday, June 10, shortly after the revelation of a “dirty bomb” plot against America, President George W. Bush vowed to track down any “would-be killers” involved in the alleged al Qaeda plot. “There’s a just a full-scale manhunt on. We will run down every lead, every hint,” he said.

The US president sounded as though he was talking about the accomplices of Abdullah Muhajir aka Jose Padilla. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources report he was thinking of a different kind of would-be killers, word of which has been muted in the public domain.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources disclose that the United States is locked in a battle to fight off a many-tentacled al Qaeda operation to smuggle terrorists through American ports in ordinary sea-going containers. (DEBKA-Net-Weekly Issue No. 39, November 30, 2001, first exposed al Qaeda’s exploitation of shipping containers to move terrorists clandestinely between countries.)

This invisible stowaway traffic has burgeoned since early April, making the United States and the world’s shipping industry increasingly susceptible to the threat of terror attack by invaders from the sea. US port authority sources believe penetrations occurred at New York, New Jersey, Long Beach, Miami and Savannah, Georgia, as well as Port Everglades, Florida. Container, oil and bulk ports are especially vulnerable.

According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources, the battle is relentless. US Coast Guard, Special Forces and CIA and FBI counter-terror units routinely conduct massive manhunts for stowaway terrorists. Some sources report firefights between hunters and terrorists trapped in sea containers. In all such confrontations, US forces have eliminated the interlopers. American and international shipping sources, mainly in Europe and the Middle East, estimate that between 15 and 25 terrorists may have died. In Miami and Savanna, containers with secret human burdens were unloaded from incoming vessels. Anti-terror squads shifted the boxes to a quiet corner of the harbor, drilled holes in their sides and filled them with gas and smoke bombs. The stowaways suffocated to death.

However, for all their efforts, the US hunters have not apprehended a single live al Qaeda terrorist landing by sea. This omission goes some way toward explaining the loud fanfare

surrounding the capture of Muhajir-Padilla.

Some of the stowaways arrive complete with arms or explosives, the nature of which the US authorities are at great pains to keep dark. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s US sources failed to come up with any descriptions, or even confirmation of whether the weapons are conventional, radioactive, chemical or biological. However, shipping sources told us witnesses had seen suspect containers appearing to be quarantined after their al Qaeda infiltrators were killed, suggesting the suspected presence of toxic substances.

By developing this backdoor sea container route for slipping terrorists into America, al Qaeda’s leaders have come close to achieving the objectives they set themselves after their suicidal minions hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11. The Islamic fundamentalist campaign of violence against America and the West has assumed a new and vigorous dimension, quite different from its publicly presented visage. The route is believed to have been long planned, possibly even before the 9/ll atrocity, as a vehicle for launching the second calamitous al Qaeda terror assault against America. The threat applies equally to the international container traffic that carries much of the world’s lifeblood. Experts have opined that a “dirty bomb” exploding in a container at sea would stop the world’s container traffic cold until a credible security system for sea-going containers was in place.

Background checks for seamen and stevedores, heavily armed National and Coast Guardsmen, special FBI and CIA units patrolling American harbors, gamma-ray devices for inspecting cargoes, quarantine areas in large ports, are part of the changing landscape in US docks. They are guarding against the possible use of port installations and vessels for a repeat of last September’s deadly attacks. Security budgets are strained beyond limits. To enhance port security efficiently, further legislation and allocations are needed to boost the number of mobile scanners, radiation detectors, exclusion zones for high-risk vessels, harbor escorts and sea patrols. Proposed too are stiff penalties for shippers failing to post detailed manifests in advance of their entry into American ports.

In the case of container terror, US and other intelligence services were again slow to pinpoint the danger despite indications from October 2001of al Qeda plans to exploit sea containers – both for secretly transporting terrorists and as a terrorist combat weapon. There were no measures in place to prevent the many armed terror cells from fanning out among ports, mainly in Europe, in order to stow away aboard container vessels bound for US harbors.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources learn that Livorno, Italy, is one of those ports. Other names are kept under wraps so as not to hamper the international investigation in progress. For the same reason, it is impossible to name the shipping companies unknowingly targeted for this traffic, only that one is a major American firm and another is a reputable Middle East shipping line. Investigators have concluded that al Qaeda owes much of its success in planting its operatives in ship’s containers to its links with criminal elements to be found in most of the world’s big container ports.

Even for this project, the Islamic terror tacticians employ a rough-and-ready hierarchy, as can be inferred from the objects the stowaways leave behind:

1. Spartanly outfitted containers for low-ranking terror operatives, usually Pakistani, who are provided with barely enough food, water or even ventilation to survive the journey. Some do not make it. Their mission is to draw attention away from the movements of senior terrorist gangs.

2. “Operational” containers transport complete terrorist units, carrying weapons or explosives, who are ready for action upon landing. Their furnishings are more comfortable; they have sleeping arrangements, decent food and drink, chemical toilets, medicines and adequate ventilation.

3. “First Class” passage is laid on for elite al Qaeda units: The containers are divided into private cubicles and furnished with air-conditioning, purified water and high-class food. These privileged stowaways usually have a contact among the ship’s crew, making it safe for them to come out at night for fresh air.

In some of the stowaway containers, US counter-terror authorities were dismayed to find uniforms of American dockworkers and even US Coast Guards, along with the appropriate tags and ID for free access to port facilities, including off-limits sections. Groups of 5 to 7 of these men dressed as port workers have been sighted hurrying over to waiting vans and driving off at speed.

On May 22, 2002, Fairplay International Shipping Weekly reported:

” More details have emerged about an apparent infiltration of Islamic extremists through US ports during the past two months. Some of the men slipped through security disguised as stevedores, according to Bob Graham, chair of the Senate select committee on intelligence. He said he had seen reports indicating that some extremists might have been wearing safety jackets and protective helmets to give the appearance of dockworkers. US Coast Guard officials have refused to divulge any information about the reports, but Graham stressed: ‘The American people have a right to know.’ He said 25 extremists ‘entered in a foreign country, hid out in a container and then entered the United States’.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror experts say that al Qaeda’s ability to secrete a sizeable group of men aboard a single vessel disguised in the correct made-in- America apparel, lay on the vehicles to whip them past US security out of port and over to safe hideouts inside America, speaks volumes about the network’s logistical and intelligence skills. It also denotes an infrastructure more comprehensive and efficient than previously believed, an improved version of the base of operation from which the 9/11 strikes were launched.

The US anti-terror authorities have not thus far succeeded in laying hands on a container-borne terrorist group. Trying a different tack, they have turned to the inspection and tracking of cargo at its points of origin. In the last two months, hundreds of US agents of all branches of security and intelligence, including Special Forces, have been deployed in ports in Europe and the Far East, where they are developing new security standards and monitoring ocean-going containers before embarkation. Since then, the illegal container traffic has slowed somewhat. But it is too soon to say whether the new counter-measures are indeed taking effect, or al Qaeda has implemented in full its plans for moving men and weapons into America.

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