Archive for Thursday, October 19, 2000

U.S., Yemeni investigators track suspects in ship bombing

October 19, 2000

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— Crew members of the USS Cole worked to restore their damaged warship and searched for the bodies of those still missing Wednesday, even as Americans back home paid tribute at a memorial service to 17 sailors who died in the explosion.

Aboard the Cole, sailors who held a small memorial on Sunday continued bailing water from the crippled vessel and searching for the bodies of four crew members still missing. They did not take time out for Wednesday's commemoration.

"They are trying to finish their job, trying to find the remains," said Lt. Terrence Dudley, a spokesman for the U.S. 5th Fleet.

Eight bodies pulled from the wreckage on Tuesday were flown to the United States, Navy officials said. Five recovered earlier have already been returned for burial. Most of the 39 sailors injured in the blast have returned to the United States, though two were being treated at a U.S. military hospital in Germany.

The investigation is focused on an Aden neighborhood surrounding an apartment where police found bomb-making equipment on Monday.

Neighbors said police had questioned the landlord and a real estate agent who found the apartment for two men who have been missing since the attack. Yemeni officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, identified the possible suspects only as non-Yemeni Arabs.

A 12-year-old Yemeni boy told authorities that a bearded man wearing glasses gave him small change and told him to watch his car near the port on the day of the bombing, Saleh said Wednesday, on the popular Arab satellite news station Al-Jazeera.

According to the child, the man then took to the sea in a rubber boat he had carried atop the car, and did not return, Saleh said. Yemeni police were apparently able to trace the man back to the apartment.

Officials believe a small rubber boat packed with explosives was maneuvered next to the Cole by two suicide bombers and then detonated.

Moments before the blast, two men were seen standing on the deck of a small vessel alongside the destroyer, U.S. authorities said. A 40-by-40-foot hole was blown into the Cole's hull and the small boat disintegrated into "confetti size" pieces.

The independent Yemeni newspaper Al Ayyam reported Wednesday that the landlord said he rented the apartment for a month to at least one non-Yemeni Arab with an unspecified Gulf accent. Al Ayyam said police determined one tenant gave the landlord forged identification.

The paper said the tenants parked a fiberglass boat near the apartment yard. The boat was now missing.

Yemeni officials would give no further information on the explosives material found in the apartment. They said the missing men arrived in Yemen four days before the attack.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh defended Yemen's role in the investigation, bristling at an interviewer's suggestion that it was dominated by Americans. He also said Yemen would not allow any of its citizens to be interrogated by U.S. investigators, as a matter of "sovereignty."

A senior U.S. administration official said U.S. FBI director Louis Freeh believes the government of Yemen "is now cooperating fully and genuinely" in the investigation. Freeh told the White House he was heading for Yemen as part of the investigation.

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