Sunday, October 20, 2002

Possibility of Using Trucks for Terror Remains Concern
Two taped warnings attributed to Al Qaeda both specified that attacks would target America's economic lifeline. Intelligence officials say this most likely means transportation or finance.

A more ominous sign, experts say, is that fuel-laden trucks have been used three times this year in terrorist attacks. On April 11, a terrorist driving a truck carrying liquefied natural gas ignited his cargo in front of a synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba, killing 21 people, mainly German and French tourists. Germany blames Al Qaeda.

In May and August, terrorists remotely triggered bombs attached to Israeli fuel tankers. Neither bomb caused substantial damage, but the incidents signaled a new tactic.

About 50,000 trips are made each day by gasoline tankers, many of which hold as much fuel as a Boeing 757. Many of the depots where they fill up are unattended, dispensing fuel with the stroke of a driver's card. The trips often end with a late-night delivery to a deserted gas station. Experts say that chemicals present an even greater risk, particularly those like chlorine or cyanide, which can form clouds of deadly fumes.

Across North America, terrorism officials were alerted in May when a truck hauling 96 drums of sodium cyanide was stolen north of Mexico City. Most of the 55-gallon drums were quickly recovered, but the hijacking showed the ease with which terrorists could appropriate a potential chemical weapon.

The very placards that trucks must carry to inform firefighters of toxic contents could also direct terrorists to particularly deadly cargo, experts say.

"Gasoline and propane are very spectacular, but realistically they pale in potential damage or injuries compared to a lot of other products that move by truck," said a senior official at a chemical-hauling company. "And the placards pretty much advertise exactly what's inside."