No sign of al Qaida raiders along LA coast

By HIL ANDERSON  |  June 18, 2002 at 8:47 PM
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LOS ANGELES, June 18 (UPI) -- There has been no sign of a boatload of al Qaida terrorists that intelligence reports indicated were sailing toward the Southern California coast aboard a merchant ship with the intent of coming ashore in the Los Angeles area, the FBI said Tuesday.

"Obviously, we have investigated and are continuing to investigate, but we have no information to substantiate the report," Cheryl Mamura, an FBI spokesman in Los Angeles, told United Press International.

The Washington Times reported Tuesday that as many as 40 terrorists, along with a cache of weapons, boarded a ship in the Middle East last month and had been thought to be en route to the waters off Los Angeles, possibly unloading on Santa Catalina Island, a resort destination about 26 miles off the coast of Long Beach, one of the busiest ports in the United States.

The FBI told the Times that several people in the Los Angeles area had been questioned about the report in recent days and that the threat potential was considered reduced at this time.

Mamura would not comment on the investigation or whether increased security measures were being taken in the beach and harbor areas, although residents of one ocean-front neighborhood told UPI that Los Angeles police officers appeared to be conducting more coastline late-night patrols on foot and by four-wheel drive vehicle the past few weeks. Also the distinctive engine sounds of U.S. Coast Guard helicopters have become de rigueur of recent genre in some beach communities late at night.

Mamura also confirmed that the concern over the seaborne terrorist threat report was ebbing somewhat since it was first received because, she told UPI, "they were supposed to have arrived in late May."

The voyage from the Middle East to California is a lengthy one that takes oil tankers around six weeks to complete under normal circumstances.

There are also miles of remote beaches where a boat could have offloaded, and port officials have increased security since Sept. 11 with the threat that terrorists could sneak into a U.S. harbor, such as Los Angeles or neighboring Long Beach, hidden in a cargo container, a method frequently used to smuggle illegal aliens in from China.

Gov. Gray Davis' top security adviser, George Vinson, said Monday it was "almost inevitable," that al Qaida would launch some kind of strike on U.S. soil this summer, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

"The intelligence we have been gathering tells us we're probably going to be hit sometime this summer," told the Computer Security Institute NetSec conference in San Francisco.

Los Angeles has had close calls in the past with terrorism. Three of the four airliners hijacked on Sept. 11 were bound for Los Angeles, and Los Angeles International Airport is believed to have been the target of a foiled 1999 bomb plot by an Algerian extremist cell that was based in Canada and had ties to Osama bin Laden terrorist camps in Afghanistan.

By coincidence, LAX is located along the coast and airliners take off over Dockweiler State Beach. Also on the coast are numerous apartments and homes as well as municipal piers, power plants, a wastewater treatment plant and the Chevron oil refinery in El Segundo.

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