World News

U.S. warns ships off Yemen of possible al Qaeda attack

DUBAI (Reuters) - The U.S. government has warned ships sailing off Yemen’s coast of the risk of al Qaeda attacks similar to a suicide bombing of the U.S. warship Cole in 2000 that killed 17 U.S. sailors.

The U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence said on its website that ships in the Red Sea, the strategic Bab al-Mandab strait between Yemen and Djibouti, and the Gulf of Aden along Yemen’s coast were at the greatest risk.

“Information suggests that al Qaeda remains interested in maritime attacks in the Bab al-Mandab Strait, Red Sea, and the Gulf of Aden along the coast of Yemen,” the office said in a statement, citing an advisory by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“Although it is unclear how they would proceed, it may be similar in nature to the attacks against the USS Cole in October 2000 and the M/V Limburg in October 2002 where a small to mid-size boat laden with explosives was detonated,” it added.

Yemen, at the forefront of Western security concerns since a failed December attack on a U.S.-bound plane, boosted security on its coast earlier this year to prevent militants reaching its shores from nearby Somalia to reinforce al Qaeda in Yemen.

Al Qaeda’s Yemen-based arm claimed responsibility for the failed December plane attempt. Western allies and neighboring oil exporter Saudi Arabia fear al Qaeda is exploiting instability on several fronts in impoverished Yemen to recruit and train militants for attacks in the region and beyond.

The Transportation Department statement said more sophisticated methods of attack by Al Qaeda in the waters near Yemen could include missiles or projectiles.

The U.S. advisory, dated March 10, said more sophisticated methods of attack by Al Qaeda in the waters near Yemen could include missiles or projectiles.

“Although the time and location of such an attack are unknown, ships in the Red Sea, Bab al-Mandab Strait, and the Gulf of Aden along the coast of Yemen are at the greatest risk of becoming targets of such an attack,” the statement added.

“All vessels transiting the waters in the vicinity of Yemen are urged to operate at a heightened state of readiness,” it said, adding that vessels were at greatest risk in areas of limited maneuverability or while anchored or at port.

Yemen, whose location at the southern rim of the Arabian Peninsula places it near one of the world’s busiest shipping corridors, is a long-standing base of support for al Qaeda.

Militants bombed the U.S. Navy warship USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden in 2000. Two years later an al Qaeda attack damaged the French supertanker Limburg in the Gulf of Aden. Yemenis were one of the largest groups to train in al Qaeda’s camps in Afghanistan before the September 11 attacks in 2001.

Writing by Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Jon Boyle