Al Qaeda Affiliate Targets US Ships: Report

PHOTO: A Zim ship enters the dock of the Terminal Darsena Toscana in the Port of Livorno, Sept. 20, 2010 in Livorno, Italy.

Algerian authorities have foiled a plot by an al Qaeda affiliate to ram U.S. or European ships in the Mediterranean with an explosive-laden boat, according to an Algerian report.

Three members of an alleged terror cell were arrested in connection with the plot, which Algerian authorities believe to have been directed by an al Qaeda affiliate in Algeria, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Algerian daily newspaper Echorouk reported.

American officials told ABC News the U.S. government had been aware of the plot before the media report, but said Algerian authorities deserve credit for the arrests. Another official said there had not been specific reference to U.S. ships in relation to the threat.

The boat-borne suicide bomb tactic appears strikingly similar to that employed when terrorists bombed the USS Cole in October 2000. In that case, two men on a small boat laden with explosives rammed the Cole while it was refueling in Yemen, blasting a 40 ft. by 60 ft. hole in its side and killing 17 American sailors, according to the U.S. Navy. Al Qaeda was responsible for that attack, the U.S. government said.

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Though the American officials said the new plot appeared to be "in the early stages," Echorouk noted the men had already purchased a boat to be used in the bombing. The suspects reportedly confessed to the plot after their arrest.

The men came to the attention of authorities after frequenting internet cafes where they surfed jihadist websites, used false names and exhibited "strange behavior," earning them the attention of "electronic crime authorities," Echorouk reported.

The U.S. officials declined to comment on any role the American government may have played in uncovering the plot, but one counter-terrorism official told ABC News, "We know that al Qaeda and their sympathizers continue to plot against the U.S. and our allies [and] as such, we are in touch with a number of foreign governments on issues pertaining to counter-terrorism."

ABC News' Jason Ryan contributed to this report.

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