The Strange Case of the “Palermo Senator”

The searches that Geiger counter-packing FBI agents conducted on the Liberian-registered freighter Palermo Senator that steamed into New York on Monday, September 9, left no doubt that the United States has strong suspicions or credible information – that Iraq or the al Qaeda terrorist organization – or both – have nuclear weapons. Only recently have US port authorities taken to examining incoming merchant vessels for radiation.
On September 12, members of the US Nuclear Emergency Security Team – NEST and Navy SEALS were still clambering over the decks and holds of the Palermo Senator, which was marooned off-shore, south of Long Island, guarded by Coast Guard vessels and US Navy warships. They faced the task of searching through 2,600 20-ft-long containers.
Suspicion was first aroused when unexplained noises issued from several cargo holds after The Palermo Senator docked in New York. The ship was diverted to Port Newark, New Jersey, to be checked for stowaways. When low radiation traces were detected, it was escorted six miles (10 kilometers) out to sea for further examination.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terrorism and maritime sources report that US authorities became alarmed when they learned that the ship had taken on its container cargo for the United States at the Italian hub port of Gioia Tauro on August 25. This port, situated on the southern Italian coast near the Straits of Messina, has long been on the “high risk” watch list of US counter-terrorism agencies and the US Coast Guard. Small container ships from the Black Sea, Mediterranean, Middle East, North Africa and Italy use the port, which has the distinction of having been revealed as the preferred transit point for al Qaeda fighters, senior commanders, weapons and nuclear, chemical — and possibly biological – materials on the move.
On November 30, 2001, DEBKA-Net-Weekly broke the story that, a month earlier, a 43-year-old Egyptian stowaway named Rigk Amid Farid had been caught at Gioia Touro port aboard the German vessel Ipex Emperor. He was ensconced in a container that had been converted into a luxurious suite complete with a comfortable bed, small kitchen, cellular telephones and enough food, water and batteries for three weeks. Canadian passports and entry permits for security men and mechanics to New York’s Kennedy airport, Newark airport and O’Hare airport in Chicago were also discovered in his suite.
An investigation showed the container-suite had been loaded on the Ipex Emperor at Egypt’s Port Said and painted over to disguise it as the property of the giant Danish Maersk Sealand container company, which it replaced.
With Europe still asleep at the wheel five weeks after the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington, an Italian court ordered the stowaway released on bail. He disappeared without a trace, denying authorities a golden opportunity to discover how al Qaeda’s human cargo container scheme worked.
When the same sort of unexplained noises emitted from containers aboard thePalermo Senator, the FBI agents’ first thought was that they had finally found the 40-man al Qaeda terrorist squad reported heading for Los Angeles by ship and never traced.
The decision to order the ship to Port Newark and call up NEST was taken to ward off any risk of a mega-terror attack on New York during the 9/11 commemoration ceremonies.
This article was published in full in DEBKA-Net-Weekly on September 13, together with a list of intriguing behind-the-scenes exposes. To find out how to place your order and join the select group of subscribers in the know, click <B<IHEREI>B>.

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