“We are not safe and we will not be safe for many years,” LAPD Deputy Chief Mark Leap said at the forum sponsored by the university’s School of Public Affairs. “There are many, many more people who consider themselves jihadists now. And criminal enterprises are being used to support terrorist activities.” Officials said the links between organized crime and terrorism are particularly troubling in light of a message posted on an al-Qaida Web site saying the group wants to kill 4 million Americans in retribution for the number of Muslims killed by the U.S. and its allies in recent years. “Al-Qaida recently announced on their Web site that they have two main targets – Los Angeles and Melbourne, Australia,” said Michael Intriligator, a terrorism expert and UCLA professor who moderated the forum. “I don’t know why they picked Melbourne, but Los Angeles was specifically mentioned as a target for their next terrorist attack.” Intriligator said Los Angeles has a number of potential targets, including LAX, its downtown skyscrapers and the nation’s largest port complex. He is especially concerned about the potential for an attack using a black-market nuclear device. “I think we are not at all prepared for this and we are living in what psychologists call a state of denial,” Intriligator said. “It’s such a horrendous thing to think about. We think it happened way back in 2001 and that it can’t happen again.” Gang involvement Sheriff’s Department Lt. John Sullivan, who helped found the county’s Terrorism Early Warning Group that has since been emulated by 26 cities nationwide, said organized crime groups in Los Angeles County are supporting international terrorists. “Al-Qaida has stated their intent to obtain nuclear weapons,” he said. “Whether they can do so is unknown. They have often in the past made good on their threats. So it’s reasonable to believe that it’s viable. “As far as attacking Los Angeles, they have attempted to attack Los Angeles in the past. It’s reasonable to believe they will again.” Sullivan also said officials are concerned about the notorious MS-13 street gang and its involvement in human smuggling and other activities on behalf of organized crime syndicates. “MS-13 has a lot of the characteristics that could facilitate terrorist activities,” Sullivan said. Brian Michael Jenkins, a terrorism expert at the Rand Corp., said officials are especially concerned about growing organized criminal activity and lawlessness in parts of Mexico and South America, the erosion of government authority and whether terrorist groups can exploit the situation to attack the U.S. “When we have criminal organizations becoming more powerful than the government then we will end up with increasing militarization along the southern border,” Jenkins said. Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Jenkins said, the U.S. government has made undeniable progress in degrading the capabilities of al-Qaida, destroying its training camps, disrupting its flow of funding and thwarting a number of terrorist plots around the globe. “But we’ve had failures as well,” Jenkins said. “What we have not been able to do is dent their determination one bit. We have not been able to stop them from turning angry young men around the world into self-destructing terrorists.” [email protected] (213) 974-8985 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Are we safer today from terrorists than we were on 9-11? No, according to a panel of experts at a forum Monday at University of California, Los Angeles. America is just as vulnerable to attack as it was on 9-11, with street gangs funding terrorist groups and also draining resources from law enforcement agencies working to head off future attacks. The experts said the war on terrorism has been replaced by the war on gangs – a huge concern in Los Angeles, which has an estimated 40,000 gang members and is an attractive target for terrorists.