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Al Qaeda-linked website threatens Monrovia company that makes military drones

AeroVironment executives step up security after warning.

July 02, 2011|By Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times

Federal authorities have warned corporate executives at a Monrovia-based builder of small drone aircraft used in Afghanistan that they are among about 60 people targeted on an Al Qaeda-connected website.

In the wake of the warning, AeroVironment and authorities in Monrovia have stepped up security at the company's corporate headquarters on West Huntington Drive.

Homeland security sources familiar with the threat told The Times that people participating in a jihadist forum on the website named past and present members of U.S. military leadership and U.S. political figures as well as corporate executives. Some photos were included.

The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case was ongoing, said the website did not include any specific plan of attack. Officials believe the threats were generated in response to a call to target Americans earlier this month by Adam Gadahn, a prominent member of Al Qaeda who grew up in Southern California.

"The briefing we received from the Monrovia police is there is a threat and we are taking that threat seriously and consider it credible," said Scott Ochoa, Monrovia's city manager. "We are working with AeroVironment and Homeland Security to enhance security at the facility and surrounding area."

He noted that the corporate headquarters is in the San Gabriel Valley suburb but that manufacturing of drones is done elsewhere locally.

FBI officials had little to say about the threats. "We have in the past reached out to people who might be a target of a crime. Even if it's not substantiated, we might reach out and let them know what we have got and give them the context," Special Agent Paul Bresson said from FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Bresson declined to discuss specific potential targets, such as the Monrovia firm, or to speculate on whether drone manufacturers are particularly vulnerable. "But," he said, "it's not unusual. It's not out of the ordinary. Lots of times the threat lacks specificity and lacks details to specific people." Federal officials say such websites are aspirational rather action-oriented.

AeroVironment said it doesn't comment on security matters. The company is the Pentagon's top supplier of small drones, which include the Raven, Wasp and Puma models. The hand-launched planes, a mainstay of the U.S. Marines in Afghanistan, are fitted with video cameras to give troops a bird's-eye view of what could lie ahead or over a hill. The company also makes charging systems for electric vehicles.

The targeting of military suppliers' corporate executives became public in May. At a trial in Chicago, an accused terrorist, David Coleman Headley, acknowledged that a Pakistan-based branch of Al Qaeda had plotted to kill Robert Stevens, the head of Lockheed Martin.

The forum list came from the Al Qaeda-linked Ansar al Mujahideen jihadist forum. Another law enforcement source said the FBI advisory noted that many such threats do not materialize. The site seeks to incite so-called lone wolves to action.

The security website Homeland Security Today obtained a jihadist hit list of 58 people that accompanied a June 6 Florida federal bulletin.

richard.winton@latimes.com

Los Angeles Times staff writers William Hennigan and Richard Serrano contributed to this report.

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