American officials are acknowledging a terror plot in Algeria that aimed to attack US or European ships in the Mediterranean. The plot, which was similar to that of the bombings in Yemen of the USS Cole in 2000 and the Limburg oil tanker in 2002, included ramming explosives-filled boats into Western-flagged ships, but was interrupted by Algerian authorities in the early planning stages.
ABC reported that US officials had been aware of the plot before the Algerian daily newspaper, Echorouk, broke the story, but hinted that Algerian authorities had foiled the plot without the help of the US government.
Three terror cell members were arrested after arousing suspicions among Algerian authorities when they visited jihadist websites at a local Internet cafe. Although no specific US ship was identified as a target, according to US authorities, Echorouk reported that the plotters had already purchased a boat to carry out the attack.
When asked if the US had played any role in uncovering the plot, a US counterterrorism official gave ABC a vague response, saying, “We know that al Qaeda and their sympathizers continue to plot against the US and our allies [and] as such, we are in touch with a number of foreign governments on issues pertaining to counterterrorism.”
Authorities believe the plot was directed by the Algerian-based terror franchise known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The group, which had earlier called itself the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), was officially welcomed into the al Qaeda fold by then second-in-command Ayman al Zawahiri in a Sept. 11, 2006 video.
In recent years, AQIM has tried to make headlines to keep pace with other affiliates such as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the ever-growing al Qaeda-aligned Somali insurgency, Shabaab. Although most of AQIM’s attacks are aimed at Algerian government and military targets, the group has recently begun to rely on kidnapping European tourists as a means to further fund its desire to conduct attacks globally.
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