Stowaway Terrorists Steal into America by Sea Container

by DEBKAfile, 18 June 2002

"Between 75 and 125 operatives of the fundamentalist terror network, al Qaeda, are known to have illegally penetrated the United States in the last two months, mostly through American ports as stowaways in commercial sea containers. Many more are estimated to have slipped through unbeknownst to US authorities.

This clandestine traffic was first exposed in DEBKA-Net-Weekly Issue No. 39, November 30, 2001. In its latest issue, DEBKA-Net-Weekly, June 14, 2002, tracks this burgeoning menace, which is 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.

Some of the stowaways arrive complete with arms or explosives, the nature of which - conventional, radioactive, chemical or biological - the US authorities are at great pains to keep dark. 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.

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.

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’.
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.

US Coast Guard, Special Forces and CIA and FBI counter-terror units routinely conduct massive manhunts to fend off the multi-tentacled al Qaeda invasion. Some sources report firefights between hunters and terrorists trapped in sea containers, in which 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.
For all their efforts, the US hunters have not apprehended a single live al Qaeda terrorist landing by sea.

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. On 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 an amphibious terrorist 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. At least two shipping companies unknowingly targeted for this traffic, one a major American firm and another 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.

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."

This report is a condensed version of the DEBKA-Net-Weekly article. The full version -together with more exclusive items - was e-mailed last week to subscribers to our weekly intelligence newsletter.