FBI Threatened In USS Cole Probe

Thursday, October 26th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ADEN, Yemen (AP) — Security was tightened Thursday around the hotel housing U.S. investigators looking into the attack on the USS Cole after a bomb threat was received, Yemeni officials said.

The officials said the telephone threat from an unknown caller was received around midnight. Yemeni and U.S. security officials held an emergency meeting in the early hours of the morning and adopted new security precautions, including ringing the hotel with machine-gun mounted military vehicles and stopping civilian traffic from approaching any closer than about 500 yards.

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 to the investigators came as the FBI technicians finished gathering evidence from the ship and were heading home. After some departures the day before, those remaining from around 80 technicians were to leave Thursday, said a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The technicians had been ``steadily sending'' evidence to the United States for analysis, the official 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. Other FBI agents with a more investigatory role remained, the official said.

Yemen's president said one of the two suspected bombers was 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.

President Ali Abdullah 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.

In Aden Wednesday, sources close to the investigation said authorities had detained a Yemeni carpenter who allegedly helped the Cole's attackers refit their boat to carry explosives and a woman who bought the car they used to haul it. No charges had been filed yet against either.

According to details of the carpenter's confession provided to The Associated Press, the carpenter said he did not go to the authorities because he did not know how the explosives were going to be used. When he asked, he said, the men told him it was none of his business.

U.S. officials remain concerned about the threat of terrorist attacks. U.S. forces in Bahrain and Qatar were put on high alert last weekend after plans for terrorist attacks were uncovered, a defense official said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, U.S. senators said a Defense Intelligence Agency terrorism expert in the Gulf claims he warned of possible terrorist attacks on U.S. forces there before the bombing of the Cole but that higher-ups failed to pass the information to military commanders.

The expert, whose name was not disclosed, resigned in protest the day after the Cole attack, a senator said Wednesday.

Defense Department spokesman Kenneth Bacon said in a statement that the analyst told the DIA's director, Vice Adm. Thomas Wilson, on Wednesday that he ``had some concerns about how the agency used his analytical views,'' but that he did not have information that would have provided ``tactical warning of the attack on the USS Cole.''