Al Qaeda 'targeting merchant shipping'

Last updated at 15:01 05 August 2004

The British Navy has warned that Al Qaeda plans to target merchant shipping in a bid to disrupt world trade. The warnings come after a week of heightened terrorist alerts in the UK and US.

Merchant vessels are an attractive target for Al Qaeda and other groups, First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Sir Alan West said.

And plans for a terror strike at sea have been uncovered by Western intelligence, Sir Alan told industry publication Lloyd's List.

"What we've noticed is that Al Qaeda and other organisations have an awareness about maritime trade," he said.

"They've realised how important it is for world trade in general, they understand the significance."

French tanker Limburgoff was the victim of a sea terror strike when it was attacked off the coast of Yemen in 2002.

Speaking in Gibraltar yesterday, Sir Alan said: "We've seen other plans from intelligence of attacks on merchant shipping.

"I can't give you detail on any of that, clearly, but we are aware that they have plans and they've looked at this. We have got an underlying level of intelligence which shows there is a threat."

Ship owners "realise that there are vulnerabilities" Sir Alan added.

Ports and maritime choke points such as the Strait of Gibraltar and Suez Canal provide the greatest risk. On the open sea it is "almost impossible" for terrorists to attack a ship, according to Sir Alan.

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