U.S. moves, terror threats keeping South Koreans on higher alert
July 20, 2004
SEOUL — A series of terror threats against the South Korean shipping and airline industries, coupled with mass movements of U.S. military equipment on the peninsula, have counterterror officials here on higher alert.
Of concern to the U.S. military is the large-scale movement of equipment from the 2nd Infantry Division area to ports in southern South Korea, where it’s being packed onto ships and sent to the Middle East.
Some 3,600 2nd Brigade soldiers are to deploy to Iraq in the coming weeks and meet up with their equipment once they get in theater. If the logistics move went according to plan, officials said last week, the movement should be complete soon.
A senior U.S. military official in South Korea, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the command has two worries. They’re concerned that South Korean citizens will mix their opposition to dispatching South Korean troops with their feelings toward the U.S. troop dispatch, in part because the U.S. military is using Korean facilities to help complete the equipment move. U.S. military officials also are concerned about force protection en route to and at the piers where equipment is being transported.
“We’ll all be breathing a little easier when this movement is done,” the official said. “If this goes off without an accident or some sort of intentional incident — whether from protesters or terrorists — we’ll have done an excellent job.”
Another worry for some U.S. servicemembers is the reported threats in recent days against commercial air travel from South Korea. In response to threats on airliners, security has been increased drastically at airports, particularly Inchon International Airport outside of Seoul.
According to South Korean police officials, almost 100 extra officers have been put on patrol in Inchon; special anti-terrorism forces also are inspecting key airport areas up to eight times a day, police said.
Most travelers will notice the increased security when they arrive at the airport. Lines for check-in are longer, as airlines have been ordered to scrutinize passengers’ identification more closely. And at security checkpoints leading to departure terminals, more thorough searches of bags and electronic devices are leading to delays.
A spokesman for Inchon Airport said Friday passengers should consider showing up for their flights even earlier than planned.
Security at ports and shipping facilities also has been beefed up, after reports last week of threats against South Korean commercial shipping. The South Korean government says it has become a possible terror target because of its decision to send additional troops to Iraq.
Last month, a South Korean translator working in Iraq was held hostage by militants and later beheaded, sparking a public outcry against the troop dispatch.