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Group: Internet posts indicate threat to Navy in Persian Gulf

By SANDRA JONTZ. STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 9, 2010

Messages posted recently by prominent contributors to Islamist Web sites are seeking specific information on U.S. military targets in hopes of carrying out an attack on Navy ships in the Persian Gulf, according to a U.S.-based group that tracks such sites.

One post on the jihadi forum Al-Falluja calls for information such as the “name of the particular naval unit to be targeted, its exact location, the number of troops on board the warship and their ranks, familial status, where their families live, the type of weapons the warship carries … and the number of nuclear bombs onboard,” reads a report compiled by the Washington, D.C.-based Middle East Media Research Institute.

Extremists reportedly are “on the verge of attacking U.S. ships in the gulf,” according to an article translated from a Kuwaiti newspaper.

Al-Qaida has been preparing for months to carry out attacks and has obtained weapons from the Somali mujahedeen that “Western countries sent to the Somali government but which instead fell into the hands of the muahideen,” according to information the group released Friday, translating an article from Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Qabas that cited Kuwaiti security sources.

While there are occasional threats, Stalinsky said, the ones that appeared around the New Year are more significant because of who is putting them out.

“The postings that have come out recently are from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which has been in the news recently, and it is from some of their leaders and some of the main people and ... head moderators,” he said. “[The message] definitely carries more weight.”

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has claimed responsibility for the failed bombing attempt of a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day.

Agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service warned U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/5th Fleet of the threats on Dec. 31, said Cmdr. Chris Sims, Navy spokesman.

“We take all threats, real or perceived, very seriously and therefore maintain a constant high level of vigilance to ensure the safety of our personnel both ashore and afloat,” Sims said.

Citing security reasons, he declined to say whether the Navy changed any force-protection measures or policies or tactics as a result of the threats.

NCIS agents “continually evaluate threats based on credibility, imminence and specificity, and disseminate information about those threats” throughout the Navy, said NCIS spokesman Ed Buice.

“Regarding recent jihadist calls for intelligence-gathering on U.S. naval activities, the same practices apply. We have evaluated these communications and incorporated our assessment of them into several classified daily threat summaries that have been distributed to naval commanders worldwide.”

Observers and investigators come across countless bits of information, not all of which generate alerts. However, it was the specificity and the call for personal familial information that led NCIS to caution 5th Fleet, a Navy official said.

The recent posts generated a lot of blog traffic, and contributors answered the call for photos of U.S. naval assets by posting photographs to the sites, Stalinsky said.

A Dec. 30 Al-Falluja post called for a gathering of intelligence on U.S. Navy targets. The post was “in response to the call by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to Muslims to kill the Crusaders in the Arabian Peninsula on land, in the air, and at sea,” a portion of a Middle East Media Research Institute report says.

Included on the post were diagrams and a dated picture of the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier. The photos, however, are from open-source Web sites, Stalinsky said, and easily attainable.

“While you can never know for sure who is putting something on a Web site, we know most of the important people by their names since we have been monitoring this for so long, and we can tell by the response,” he said.

One message posted Monday on Al-Falluja by a prominent contributor called “Abu Raghd” warns that al-Qaida has adopted a policy of “a blow for a blow and a raid for a raid” against America, the Middle East Media Research Institute stated.

“The writer states that, just as the Nigerian bomber surprised America with a new type of a bomb, future attacks will likewise involve ‘advanced bombs which your [security] apparatuses will fail to detect, or operations on an extravagant scale,’” reads the group’s translation.

The threats illustrate the precarious balance of keeping members informed and operational security, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick West said in a message posted Wednesday on the Navy’s Web site.

“Anyone who thinks our enemies don’t monitor what our sailors, families and commands are doing via the Internet and social media had better open their eyes,” West wrote. “These sites are great for networking, getting the word out and talking about some of our most important family readiness issues, but our sailors and their loved ones have to be careful with what they say and what they reveal about themselves, their families or their commands.”