Yemeni port rocked by U.S. ship explosion

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

ADEN, Yemen (AP) _ Ahmed Mohammed al-Naderi was sitting at his desk in the port-side hotel he manages when the building shook from a powerful explosion that shattered windows along the Red Sea coast.

The explosion was just offshore, ripping a gaping hole in the 9,100-ton Navy destroyer USS Cole and killing at least five American sailors.

The blast ``was so loud I thought it was from inside the hotel,'' al-Naderi said.

The ship, listing but well afloat, could be seen from the hotel, al-Naderi said. Ambulances rushed to the port. Security was tight, with the Americans working with Yemeni authorities to cordon off the area.

The attack came amid anti-U.S. fervor in the region sparked by two weeks of Israeli-Palestinian clashes. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

For all its anarchic politics, its streak of fundamentalism and violence, such an attack is unusual in Yemen, a nation on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula on the Red Sea.

``The American ships have been coming for quite some time and nobody shows anger,'' said Mohammed el-Attar, a Yemeni journalist in Aden, 190 miles south of the capital San'a and one of the deepest ports in the world.

The blast broke windows along the Red Sea coast in homes and businesses _ including Al-Naderi's Rock Hotel. A car that had been passing by about 60 feet from the destroyer was overturned. It was not clear what happened to the car's occupants.

``Thank God, none of the guests or hotel personnel were injured,'' Al-Naderi said. His white, nine-story hotel, built in 1957 but refurbished five years ago, remained open with only a few guests.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh was shown on national television visiting some of the wounded, who included at least two Yemenis. He called for an investigation and rejected allegations from U.S. officials that terrorists were behind the explosion.

``I don't think it's a terrorist attack,'' Saleh told CNN, insisting his country harbored no ``terrorist elements.''

Yemen has in the past bristled at suggestions it harbored anti-American elements. When the recent Hollywood movie ``Rules of Engagement'' showed Yemenis rioting outside the U.S. Embassy in Yemen, Yemeni officials objected it was a ``barbaric and racist'' portrayal and noted there had not been an anti-U.S. riot in the country in almost a decade.

U.S. Navy ships commonly refuel in Aden. But in recent days, Yemen and many of its neighbors have been swept by angry streets protests against what Arabs see as U.S.-backed Israel's harsh response to Palestinian protests.

Fifteen days of Israeli-Palestinian clashes have more than 90 people dead, the majority Palestinians.

Saleh, North Yemen's president since 1978 and since 1990 head of the merged country, has been criticized for calling for an Arab war against Israel. He says the media ``twisted'' his words.

Yemeni Prime Minister Abdul-Karim al-Iryani told The Associated Press in March that wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden at one time had ``colleagues'' in Yemen, but now ``has no place in Yemen, no military camps.''

The United States accuses bin Laden of organizing a militant network with followers across the Mideast, including Yemen, and says he masterminded 1998 bombings against the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 224 people.

Yemen was one of the countries where members of the Palestine Liberation Organization settled after losing a base in Lebanon. Few Palestinians remain in Yemen today.