USS Cole Attack Linked to Two Men

Tuesday, October 17th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ADEN, Yemen (AP) — Yemeni investigators found bomb-making equipment in a house near the port of Aden and believe two men who spent several days there are linked to the bombing of the USS Cole, security officials said Tuesday.

The officials identified the men, who have disappeared, only as non-Yemeni Arabs. Other Yemeni officials said they were Saudi.

The disclosure comes a day after Yemen reversed its earlier position and called the blast that killed 17 Americans ``a premeditated criminal act.''

The new stance gave a crucial boost to the investigation. The country's security forces interrogated dozens of port workers and others on Monday, including the head of the company that services U.S. warships.

The security officials said the house was searched Monday and bomb-making materials were found. The officials did not elaborate on what the materials were.

The officials said the men were believed to have entered Yemen four days before Thursday's bombing. They did not say which country the men had traveled from.

There has been no credible claim of responsibility for the deadliest terrorist attack on the U.S. military since the 1996 bombing of an Air Force barracks in Saudi Arabia that killed 19.

But immediate suspicion fell on terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden — accused in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people. That August, the United States fired dozens of Tomahawk cruise missiles on eastern Afghanistan in an attempt to kill bin Laden.

In his first statement since December 1998, bin Laden warned against another attack. He said Tuesday that an attack would not kill him and vowed to continue his battle against the ``enemies of Islam.'' He made no direct reference to the Yemen attack, but Afghanistan's Taliban rulers on Monday denied bin Laden was involved.

U.S. officials believe the attackers brought an explosives-laden small boat near the Cole and detonated it in a suicide attack. Two men were seen standing up in the small boat before the explosion, official have said.

Many Yemenis have said they do not believe the attack was the result of a homegrown plot, and Tuesday's disclosures put the spotlight on neighboring Saudi Arabia.

Decades of border disputes have marred relations between Yemen and Saudi Arabia. The two countries signed an agreement in June to settle the disputes. Yemen has long contested Saudi Arabia's claim to three Red Sea islands and parts of the Empty Quarter, a vast desert region with potentially lucrative oil deposits.

Meanwhile, four of the U.S. sailors seriously injured in the apparent suicide bombing of the Cole were flown home Tuesday from Germany, leaving behind two critically ill shipmates.

The three men and a woman arrived on an army bus and were carried on stretchers onto a C-141 transport plane bound for a Norfolk, Va., naval base. One gave a thumbs-up to watching reporters. The sailors had been treated at the U.S. military's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in western Germany since their arrival Saturday.

Thirty-three other injured sailors returned to the United States over the weekend, and 13 were released from a Virginia hospital by Monday afternoon.