Americans in Cole Probe Threatened

Friday, October 27th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ADEN, Yemen (AP) — Machine-gun mounted military vehicles surrounded a port-side hotel and civilian traffic was kept away Thursday after a bomb threat targeted Americans investigating the attack on the USS Cole.

The U.S. ambassador to Yemen, Barbara Bodine, also was staying at the hotel and the threat was considered serious enough to wake her to inform her early Thursday. Bodine has temporarily moved from the embassy in San'a to monitor the investigation.

The U.S. Defense Department said Tuesday that American forces in Bahrain, Qatar and Turkey are on heightened alert because of new evidence of terrorist threats in the region.

In Aden, Yemeni security officials said the telephoned bomb threat from an unknown caller came in around midnight. Yemeni and U.S. security officials held an emergency meeting before dawn and adopted the new security precautions, including preventing civilian traffic from getting within 500 yards of the hotel.

In Washington, Defense Secretary William Cohen and Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, held a private video conference with U.S. military commanders around the world, urging them to shore up weak points in troop security.

The Oct. 12 attack on the Cole killed 17 U.S. sailors and wounded 39 others. Officials believe two suicide bombers maneuvered a small boat next to the destroyer and detonated it.

The bomb threat at the hotel came as FBI investigators finished gathering evidence from the ship to send back to the United States for analysis.

About 80 FBI evidence technicians had returned home by Thursday after completing their work, said a federal law enforcement official in Washington. Another more than 20 FBI agents remain in Yemen, including investigators, security and communications experts, the official said.

U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno told a news conference the experts were leaving Yemen as soon as they completed their work. ``We're bringing them out and trying to do it in an orderly way that will ensure security,'' Reno said.

The Cole is to be carried back to the United States on a special ``heavy-lift'' ship that is expected to reach Aden on Sunday.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said Wednesday that one of the two suspected bombers has been identified by witnesses as an Egyptian and that a number of Arab veterans of Afghanistan's war against Soviet troops had been detained in connection with the blast.

Saleh said the detainees were senior members of the Muslim militant group Islamic Jihad, including Yemenis, Egyptians and Algerians.

Terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden was prominently involved in the Afghan resistance and now lives in Afghanistan, but Saleh declined to say whether the attackers or detainees had any connection to bin Laden's Al-Qaida group. Saleh spoke on MBC television, a Saudi-owned satellite channel broadcast from London.

If terrorism is proved, the Cole bombing would be the deadliest terrorist attack on the U.S. military since 19 Air Force personnel died in a 1996 truck-bomb explosion in Saudi Arabia.

A representative in the United States of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban said that ``if the U.S. government or any other government provided us evidence, we are willing to take (bin Laden) to trial, according to their desire and their demands.''

But Abdul Hakim Mujahid — making a rare public speech at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Massachusetts on Wednesday — said he doubted there was any evidence tying bin Laden to the attack.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Hussein Mohammed Arab said Thursday that the investigation into a grenade attack on the British Embassy in San`a is nearing conclusion. He said the Islamic Jihad member suspected of throwing the grenade onto the embassy grounds one day after the Cole attack will be referred to the prosecution next week.