'Bin Laden's fingerprints all over these attacks' on US destroyer

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'Bin Laden's fingerprints all over these attacks' By Julian West in New Delhi

40 British hostages in Saddam's clutches as Baghdad hijack ends

WESTERN intelligence agencies believe it is increasingly likely that members of Osama bin Laden's terrorist network carried out the attacks on a United States' destroyer and the British Embassy in Yemen last week. There are now fears that these attacks could signal the start of a prolonged terrorist campaign against American and British interests, not only in the Middle East, but worldwide. Two previously unknown Islamic groups - the Islamic Deterrence Forces and Mohammed's Army - have claimed responsibility for the bombing of the British mission in Sana'a, the Yemeni capital, which caused considerable damage but no casualties, and the suicide blast on the USS Cole, which killed 17 sailors.

Western intelligence sources, who have been closely monitoring the fugitive Saudi multi-millionaire's movements in Afghanistan, said yesterday that both these groups are likely to be fronts for better-known terrorist organisations belonging to bin Laden's network, al Quaeda, or the Base.

A Western intelligence source said: "The fingerprints of bin Laden are all over these attacks. Two or three guys are brought together to do a particular mission and then they invent a name to sling about. It is standard practice for these organisations."

American intelligence agents recently intercepted a coded electronic communication from bin Laden giving a "go order" to activate one of his terrorist cells, according to reports in the US yesterday.

American military officials confirmed yesterday that they had received from an intelligence source in the Arab world an unspecific warning of a possible attack on an American warship last month, but that it had been couched only in general terms and had not mentioned any particular country. As a result, an official told the New York Times, the report "got put on the shelf".

There has been no statement from America's most wanted terrorist, or his lieutenants, in Afghanistan. After the American embassy bombings in east Africa two years ago, which killed more than 250 people, bin Laden's aide, Dr Ayman al Zawahiri, the leader of the Egyptian terrorist group, al Jihad, issued a denial.

However, both bin Laden and his hosts, the Taliban, have threatened recently to carry out a campaign of terrorist attacks on American and Israeli targets, as well as on US allies. Last month, bin Laden sent a message to a meeting of Islamic radicals in Peshawar, Pakistan, calling for "all Muslims to join a jihad against Jews". Earlier in the month, in a video that showed bin Laden with a dagger in his belt, he promised to "work with all our power to free our prisoners in America, Egypt and Riyadh".

The blind Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, whose two sons are with bin Laden, is being held in a US prison for the World Trade Centre bombing in 1993, and dozens of bin Laden's international associates have been arrested as a result of American pressure in the past 18 months.

Yesterday, a team of British intelligence officers arrived in Yemen to investigate the embassy bombing. Yemen is known to harbour scores of Arab terrorist groups, many of which - such as Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Algerian Armed Islamic Group - are part of bin Laden's network or owe allegiance to the Saudi.

Bin Laden, who has a $5 million (#3 million) price on his head, is known to have considered fleeing to Yemen if the Taliban, which is harbouring him and which is under United Nations sanctions as a result, succumbs to American pressure to hand him over. The Taliban has issued barely veiled threats against America if a UN threat to impose yet more sanctions is carried out.

Meanwhile, bin Laden, who has spent the past few months being treated by an Iraqi doctor in Afghanistan for liver and kidney failure, has married for the fourth time. His new wife is an 18-year-old Yemeni girl whose two brothers are among bin Laden's close aides and whose parents have been living in Afghanistan for the past few years.

The wedding, which is believed to have been held at one of bin Laden's hideouts near Kandahar, was celebrated with a lavish party. Bin Laden is also married to the sister of Mullah Omar, the Taliban's leader, for whom bin Laden built a lavish rose-pink and green house, set in a walled compound in Kandahar; and the mysterious, one-eyed cleric was a guest of honour at the wedding.

The marriage to a young woman less than half his age - bin Laden is 43 - suggests that the Saudi's health may be improving. He is believed to have about 10 children already and two of his tall, good-looking teenage sons have been present at his recent meetings with Arab sympathisers. It also further cements his connections with Yemen.

Meanwhile, there have been anti-American protests across the Muslim world. In the pro-American United Arab Emirates, the imam of a mosque called for a jihad against America during Friday prayers; and in Pakistan, there have been wide-scale demonstrations. US embassies in Pakistan, Africa and elsewhere have been ordered to remain closed over the weekend for fear of further attacks.


-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), October 15, 2000

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