(pic, USS Cole after 2000 attack)
Algeria says that it has busted an Al Qaeda linked terrorist cell that was planning to carry out suicide boat attacks in the Mediterranean against Western ships. Three members of the terrorist group-— H. Rabeh, T. Belal, and M. Tarek — have been arrested and have confessed to the plot; all belong to the city of Annaba and have links with Al Qaeda, authorities say.
The Algerian newspaper Echorouk quotes sources saying that the mastermind behind the attacks is the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb's (AQIM) Qassemi Salah al-Din, also known as Mohamed Abu Salah. Similar to the USS Cole attack in Aden in 2000 and a later aborted plot in Morocco that aimed to target ships passing through the Strait of Gibraltar, the Algerian terrorists' plan was to use a boat with a powerful engine, load it up with explosives and put it out to sea. A suicide bomber would then ram it into ships- targets of convenience- that happened to be in the area.
It is believed that American and European vessels were to be hit. Algerian security says that the aim was to destabilise the Algerian economy and attract media attention, but analysts say that such an attack would have much wider repercussions on shipping and would pose a major threat to world trade.
The Algerian plot came to light since the three suspects used to frequent internet cafes and browse jihadist websites under fake names; security surveillance was set up to track these men and their activities. The authorities' suspicions hardened after it was found that one of them- H. Rabeh- had got in touch with a known criminal involved in illegal immigration and got details about prices of boats and suitable locations from where a seaborne terrorist attack could be launched. A boat was subsequently purchased according to reports. Algerian authorities now say that the three men have confessed to direct links with Abu Mohamed Salah.
Confirmation of the plot has come from US authorities as well. The New York Daily quotes an anonymous US official saying, “The U.S. was aware of the plot, which looks right now like it was in the early stages, but the Algerians deserve the credit for the arrests,” pointing out that the Malian Foreign Minister had said recently that there was a "confirmed link" between AQIM and Boko Haram, the Nigerian Islamist group responsible for many bombings and attacks on the Christian population in that country.
US media- including ABC news- has been quick to remind viewers that the foiled attack plans bear a remarkable similarity to the suicide boat attack in Aden harbour on the USS Cole in October 2000 that left 17 American servicemen dead and many injured (see pic)- the result of two men ramming an explosive laden boat into the warship.