In Brief... World News Review: Terrorist Threat to Sea Gate

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In Brief... World News Review

Terrorist Threat to Sea Gate

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Where will the next big terrorist strike occur? Experts are predicting it could happen in a little known but vital waterway, the Strait of Malacca off the coast of Indonesia.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Asian Edition, "Lloyd's List International, the International Maritime Bureau, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Aegis Defense Services and a host of other maritime and security organizations have begun to warn that al Qaeda and its local Southeast Asian affiliates may be planning attacks that would render the Bali bombings of October 2002—al Qaeda's biggest attack since Sept. 11 in the United States—small potatoes" (Jan. 27, 2004).

More than 50,000 ships pass through the strait each year, carrying half the world's supply of crude oil. Attacks in the strait—which narrows to 1.5 miles wide at some points—account for more than half the piracy in the world.

Fears are that a hijacked ship could be sunk in the strait, thus blocking one of the main shipping lanes of the world. Ships have already been hijacked as "trials" and captains forced to teach hijackers how to guide and maneuver ships before being released.

These training exercises could be a prelude to a ship carrying liquefied natural gas being run into a port, such as Singapore, then being set off as a bomb. The result would be "more devastating than any bomb" and "too horrible to think about," said an official with the International Tanker Operators Association.

The Strait of Malacca connects the Indian Ocean with the Pacific Ocean. It is one of the world's critical sea gates or choke points. Once part of the British Empire, it was a strategic pass for both naval and merchant ships, the guardian and supplier of the empire. After World War II American power replaced the British in the region. Today this vital passageway remains a key factor in shipping for Asia, especially China.

China has become the world's second largest user of imported oil, behind the United States. Like the rest of the world, most of that oil comes from the Middle East and passes through the Strait of Malacca. China's leaders will watch any terrorist threat to this area closely. Their emerging economy grows increasingly dependent on imports of oil and other raw materials.

—Source: Wall Street Journal, Asian Edition.