The US office of Naval Intelligence warned Monday, March 22, that ships sailing off Yemen's Red Sea and Gulf of Aden coasts run the risk of al Qaeda attacks similar to the suicide bombing of the US warship Cole in 2000 that killed 17 U.S. sailors. The risk is greatest in the Bab al-Mandeb strait between Yemen and Djibouti and the Gulf of Aden.
debkafile's military sources report: The warning indicates US Navy intelligence has information, albeit without dates or locations, that al Qaeda is planning attacks on shipping in these waters, among the world's busiest trade and naval routes. At risk are ships exiting the Suez Canal from the south, sea traffic bound west for the Suez Canal from the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf and ships sailing off Yemeni shores.
All ships in the vicinity of Yemen are urged to heighten their state of readiness, with "vessels of limited maneuverability or anchored at port" warned they are at greatest risk.
The US advisory said al Qaeda had developed sophisticated methods of attack, including missiles or other projectiles. For its attacks on the US Cole in 2000 and the French oil tanker Limburgh two years later, al Qaeda singled out the most up-to-the-minute maritime vessels afloat as their targets. The Cole was the latest word in armored battleships in the US Navy. It was crippled at Yemen's Aden port by suicide terrorists using an explosives-packed speedboat to ram its hull. Seventeen seamen lost their lives and 500 were injured.
For the US Navy, the blow was compounded by its certainty that the Cole was invulnerable to attack.
Two years later, the French 157,000-ton crude oil tanker, the Limburgh, exploded in flames after it was rammed outside the Yemeni port of Mukullah east of Aden. Both of its new armored double-walls, installed as a precaution against terror attack, were pierced. One crewman died.
Our military sources report that, despite US-backed Yemen army efforts to eradicate its strongholds in the country, al Qaeda has clearly enhanced its striking ability from there. New maritime raider units have been trained for operating speed boats carrying missiles as well as explosives.
Our counter-terror sources also report that al Qaeda has begun training frogmen as human torpedoes for striking Western vessels. They are to be dropped far from their targets to avoid detection and able to swim long distances before attaching themselves to ships and blowing themselves up.
The seas at highest risk of terror attack, the Gulf of Aden and waters touching on Eastern Africa, are patrolled against Somali pirates by the US Combined Task Force 151-CTF 151, as well as Russian, Chinese, and Iranian warships. Our sources stress that these are the very warships eyed by al Qaeda for its strikes.
The US warning of terrorist danger on one of the world's busiest routes for general shipping and oil supplies to the West will no doubt push up maritime insurance premiums and international oil prices.