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FBI: Terrorists may try to arrive by sea

From Charles Feldman
CNN Los Angeles Bureau

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- The FBI has received reports that al Qaeda terrorists may be making their way toward Southern California aboard a merchant ship, but has no evidence to back up those reports, the bureau said Wednesday.

The reports indicate that as many as 40 al Qaeda members may have boarded a merchant vessel in the past month and were headed for the United States, FBI spokesman Matthew McLaughlin said. The bureau has placed a "very high priority" on determining their accuracy, he said.

He stressed that the FBI has not gathered any evidence thus far to support the claims and said no terror alert has been issued.

McLaughlin declined to provide details of the reports, but said Catalina Island -- about 23 miles off the California coast near Los Angeles -- was mentioned as a possible destination.

The reports came to the FBI's attention in May. The FBI has received thousands of tips along these lines, and most turn up empty, McLaughlin said.

The reports are the latest of several vague warnings about al Qaeda activity in recent weeks, including reports that the terrorist group's operatives could use model aircraft or small rockets to attack passenger planes or that al Qaeda may possess shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles.

Though the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan severely damaged al Qaeda's ability to operate, analysts say there are signs the group is attempting a counterattack.

The U.S. military is holding a U.S.-born Muslim convert, Jose Padilla, whom officials accuse of being part of al Qaeda to set off a radioactive "dirty bomb" somewhere in the United States; and the State Department says it suspects al Qaeda was behind a bombing at the U.S. Consulate in Karachi, Pakistan, last week that killed 11 Pakistanis.




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