Sources: Local helped USS Cole attackers

Wednesday, October 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ADEN, Yemen (AP) _ A Yemeni carpenter now in detention helped two men modify a small boat to carry explosives, sources said Wednesday, as investigators increasingly turn their attention to the network the bombers used to plan and carry out the attack on the USS Cole.

The Yemeni sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said authorities also have detained a woman who bought the car they used to haul the boat. The sources said charges had not yet been filed in either case.

The carpenter confessed Tuesday that he had helped two men modify a small boat to carry explosives and then helped them load the explosives into the boat. It was not immediately clear if the man knew what the two planned to do with the bomb-laden boat. He was not named.

Officials believe two suicide bombers maneuvered a small boat next to the Cole and detonated it on Oct. 12, killing 17 U.S. sailors and injuring 39.

The carpenter had rented the men the Aden house they used to work on the boat, the sources said. They said he had been detained since a day after the bombing, but only provided details of his involvement Tuesday.

The two men have not been seen since shortly before the bombing and their identities and nationality were unknown.

Also Wednesday, security officials in Taiz, northwest of Aden, said they had detained a woman who confessed the men gave her money to buy a car in her name that they used to haul their boat to shore. The women was identified only as a Somali. No other details were immediately available.

Yemeni investigators have increasingly turned their attention to the network the bombers used to plan and carry out the attack.

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 U.S. official, meanwhile, slightly altered the account of conditions at the time of the bombing.

A senior U.S. official said on customary condition of anonymity Wednesday that the Cole was in the third-highest state of alert when it entered the port Oct. 12. The Navy had earlier said the Cole and its crew were at the second-highest level.

Ships normally enter Aden at the third-highest level, known as bravo, and there was apparently no reason to suspect Oct. 12 would be out of the ordinary. At bravo, a number of rifle-toting sailors would have been keeping a watchful eye on the area from stations on the ship's deck. At the next highest level, a security boat might have accompanied the Cole, among other measures.

The U.S. Navy five days ago had altered its account of events leading to the bombing, saying earlier statements were based on initial reports from the ship that were either wrong or were misunderstood by Pentagon officials.