Attack on Cruise Liner: Piracy or Terror?
(CNSNews.com) - Gunmen who attacked a luxury cruise liner off the east coast of Africa may have been terrorists targeting Americans and other Westerners rather than pirates, the Australian government said Monday.
An armed gang on two speedboats fired machine guns and a rocket-propelled grenade at the Seabourn Spirit as the Bahamas-registered ship sailed about 100 miles off the Somali coast in the early hours of Saturday morning. More than 300 passengers and crew -- mostly Americans, but also Britons, Australians and others -- were on the vessel, one of three ships comprising the Miami-based Seabourn Cruise Line, when the attack occurred. One crew member sustained a shrapnel injury.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said it was possible the attackers were terrorists rather than pirates.
Noting that the ship was based in Miami and had many Americans onboard, Downer said the assailants may have seen it as a U.S. target.
"Somalia is a country which harbors a number of terrorists, we believe, so it's conceivable these people were terrorists," he said, but added that "we really can't draw any hard and fast conclusions at this stage."
Maritime security experts have long warned that Muslim extremists could adopt pirates' tactics in a bid to seize a ship to use in a terrorist attack of some kind -- blowing it up, scuttling it to block a crucial sea lane, or using it to ram into a shore facility.
Although Southeast Asia has been the primary focus of that concern, East Africa also struggles with Islamic terrorism, and the waters off Somalia have become increasingly dangerous.