Exclusive:Terror plot on US carrier foiled

By PAMELA HESS, UPI Pentagon Correspondent   |   Dec. 28, 2001 at 4:58 PM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- Acting on U.S. intelligence gathered in Afghanistan, the Singapore government earlier this month raided a "terrorist nest" and arrested 12 alleged al Qaida members suspected of planning an attack on the island nation's deep-water Navy port, top Pentagon and other government officials said.

Two suspected terrorists escaped arrest, Pentagon officials said.

Singapore officials have also failed to locate two tons of explosives intended to be used in the attack or attacks, a military official said.

Neither the Singapore government nor the Pentagon has publicly acknowledged the raid out of concern over compromising the source of the intelligence, a Pentagon official told United Press International.

Singapore Embassy officials in Washington, D.C., said they were unaware of the operation. American officials said they could not put an exact date on the raid nor identify the Singapore agency that carried it out.

The USS Carl Vinson was scheduled to use the port later in December so "people were pretty squirrelly" about the information and moved swiftly to act on it, a U.S. government official told UPI on Friday.

In October 2000, suicide bombers in Yemen attacked the USS Cole, a destroyer that was refueling in a port, killing 17 sailors. The bombing is still unsolved but has been linked to al Qaida, fingered in the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

Pentagon and Navy officials said there was no direct connection between the Vinson's visit and the planned attack in Singapore, the exact targets of which remain unknown.

The Carl Vinson and its crew of 5,000 -- fresh from more than three months' flying attack missions into Afghanistan -- visited the port as scheduled for three days over the Christmas holiday, according to a Navy official.

Additional security precautions were already being taken around the port and the visit would only have been canceled if there was a specific threat against the ship, the official told UPI.

The Vinson's home ported is Bremerton, Wash.

U.S. officials declined to specify the exact nature of the intelligence provided to Singapore. The military, the CIA and the FBI have been interrogating the hundreds of prisoners captured by anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan and reviewing reams of paperwork and videotapes collected from sites abandoned by al Qaida. As of Friday U.S. Marines were holding 70 detainees in Kandahar and aboard the USS Peleliu.

Singapore inaugurated its deep-water port at the Changi Naval Base in March 2001 with a visit from the USS Kitty Hawk. Until the berth was built, U.S. aircraft carriers had to moor in a commercial harbor at much greater risk, especially in the wake of the USS Cole bombing.

Singapore, known for its strict enforcement of law and low crime rates, is an important stop on major Pacific shipping routes. The safety of its port and the Malacca Strait is especially vital to key U.S. allies Japan and South Korea for oil and raw materials.

In October, Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong told a conference of union leaders that the government last year discovered a plot by Middle Eastern terrorist groups to recruit Singaporean Muslims and found a video of the coastline made by another terrorist group seeking to attack passing U.S. ships.

Singapore is expected to be among the hardest hit economically by Sept. 11 because of its close ties to the U.S. economy and its reliance on healthy supply chains for shipping, according to a study completed by Harvard University in October.

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