Al Qaeda has turned its terror sights to the sea, targeting luxury cruise liners in a major expansion of its “jihad” against Western interests. And top of the terror network’s list of ocean-bound targets is the new $1.3 billion British ship Queen Mary 2.
The threat to QM2 comes as a British MP revealed yesterday that two Islamic suicide pilots had been arrested in Saudi Arabia in the past two weeks. They allegedly were preparing to crash a pair of light aircraft into a packed British Airways passenger jet on takeoff.
And Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said terrorists had planned to attack the Vatican with a hijacked plane on Christmas Day.
QM2 owner Cunard confirmed it had received a terrorist threat against its maiden voyage in the new year.
[A spokesman for Cunard told Foxnews.com that reports of threats against the QM2 are unsubstantiated # and said Cunard is working with authorities on both sides of the Atlantic to monitor the situation.]
Concerns Al Qaeda had opened up a new front in its terror campaign emerged when a U.S. spy plane discovered scores of acoustic sea mines had disappeared from a high-security naval base in North Korea.
U.S. intelligence services believe the mines may be on board an armada of 28 terror ships that Usama bin Laden’s organization has assembled in the past year.
The mines are fitted with homing devices that allow them to zero-in on massive targets such as the 150,000-tonne QM2.
A spokesman for Cunard insisted last night the liner had been safeguarded against such attacks.
“We have received reports of a threat,” he said. “While we cannot discuss its nature, we are fully satisfied with our security precautions.”
The capture of Ahmad Belai al-Neshari, Al Qaeda’s chief of naval operations, revealed the extent of the organization’s maritime ambitions.
Al-Neshari was found carrying a 180-page dossier that listed “targets of opportunity” such as large cruise liners sailing from Western ports.
U.S. intelligence officials have uncovered information showing he was planning to attack the British aircraft carrier Ark Royal as it passed through the Straits of Gibraltar en route to the Gulf War this year.
But now evidence has emerged Al Qaeda has diverted its attention from military targets to “softer” civilian targets such as the QM2.
“The ship fits Al Qaeda requirements,” an MI6 official told Britain’s Sunday Express newspaper. “It is a soft target as it is undefended and depends only on its speed to avoid trouble.”
Security analysts believe any attack on the QM2, now berthed at Southampton before its launch by the Queen next month, would occur at sea.
One high-risk area could be when the liner’s four 215-megawatt engines surge to top speed off the west coast of Ireland on its maiden voyage to Fort Lauderdale in Florida.
The QM2 threat came amid revelations that two Islamic suicide pilots were arrested while finalizing plans to fly two light planes into a fully laden British Airways jumbo jet.
According to the Mail on Sunday newspaper, the terrorists had already loaded the attack planes with explosives when they were captured.
They had planned to crash them into the Boeing 777 airliner as it taxied on the runway at Saudi Arabia’s main airport, killing all 380 passengers and crew on board.
The plot # thwarted by Saudi intelligence agents # was revealed by British MP Patrick Mercer, the opposition spokesman for Home Affairs.
Meanwhile, Berlusconi said he received reliable intelligence that Al Qaeda had a Christmas Day plan to assassinate the Pope and destroy the ancient seat of the Catholic faith.
Mr. Berlusconi said he had been passed “precise and verified news of an attack on Rome.”