Four Iraqi suicide speedboats spotted, one intercepted

Thursday, March 27, 2003

ABU DHABI The United States has warned that ships transiting the Persian Gulf are in danger of attacks by Iraqi suicide squads.

Officials said Iraqi speedboats filled with explosives are moving through the northern Gulf area seeking civilian and military targets. They said at least four Iraqi suicide vessels have been spotted and one was intercepted.

On Tuesday, Iranian naval vessels stopped an Iraqi fast-patrol boat packed with 500 kilograms of high explosives, Middle East Newsline reported. The Iraqi vessel was captured when it ran aground at the mouth of narrow Shatt-al-Arab waterway, near the Iranian border.

Officials said three other Iraqi vessels escaped in the clash with Iranian naval boats. Iranian forces removed the explosives.

Western intelligence sources reported that Iraq has been negotiating with companies in the former Yugoslavia for 100 Zodiac-type rubber and wooden boats for suicide missions. The sources said a small number of boats have been purchased and suicide squads were trained by Iraqi intelligence units near Baghdad.

The multinational naval force in the Gulf has made the capture of the Iraqi suicide boats a priority. The naval force is composed of 30 vessels from Australia, Britain and the United States.

In a related development, U.S. Central Command has begun employing dolphins for mine-detection missions. On Wednesday, the allies began using two dolphins to detect mines around the port of Umm Qasr. So far, several mines have been detected and neutralized.

"Our maritime forces are hard at work supporting air operations, maintaining security to the Arabian Gulf for all shipping and completing the difficult task of demining Iraqi waters," Maj Gen Victor Renuart, a senior officer at Central Command, said. "We have some specially trained dolphins that are out there helping us to determine where mines may be in the channels."

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