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Maritime terrorism -the threat from the sea

September 7, 2007

The first of a three-part series on maritime counter-terrorism. It looks at what India needs to do to protect its eastern and western seaboards. URL for this article:

The attack, stated to be by Al Qaeda, on the US naval ship USS Cole at Aden in October 2000, and the subsequent investigation into that incident gave birth to concerns that international terrorists might expand their acts of terrorism from the land to the sea.

Terrorist groups in West Asia and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam had indulged in acts of maritime terrorism even before October 2000, and the LTTE, through its fleet of ships, ostensibly used for legitimate commercial purposes, had been using the sea for the clandestine transport of arms and ammunition and other material required for its acts of terrorism on the land.

However, such uses had limited tactical objectives and did not think in terms of mass casualties or mass damage to be inflicted on the global economy as a whole.

The 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US and the precision and the evil ingenuity with which they were planned and executed created a wave of alarm about the likelihood of similar strikes at coastal and maritime targets. Since 9/11, there is hardly any discussion, governmental or non-governmental, on threats to national security and to international peace and security in which possible threats from maritime terrorism do not figure prominently.

Post-9/11, scenario-building exercises have invariably included scenarios involving possible catastrophic acts of maritime terrorism. Four of these possible scenarios are or should be of major concern to national security managers:

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