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UK: Iraq-Bin Laden boat bomb link
USS Cole: 17 dead mourned as experts piece together attack
Special report: Israel and the Middle East Special report: Iraq
Julian Borger in Washington Thursday October 19, 2000
Investigators in Yemen yesterday uncovered evidence suggesting the bomb attack on the warship USS Cole had been a meticulously organised conspiracy, which a leading US terrorism expert said may have been the first joint operation between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Under an overcast sky at the Norfolk naval base in Virginia, President Clinton led thousands of US servicemen in mourning the 17 victims of last week's blast, as the state department warned that more attacks against US citizens could be on the way in the Middle East or Turkey.
In Aden, Yemeni police and FBI agents were examining a flat apparently rented by the bomb makers four days before the attack. Bomb-making materials were found in the flat, which was rented by two non-Yemeni Arabs, at least one of whom had a Gulf accent, local residents said. They kept a fibre glass boat parked nearby.
It was not clear whether the missing suspects were the two men who manoeuvred their small boat alongside the USS Cole and blew themselves up, or whether they were technicians spirited out of the country after the attack.
Paying tribute to the Cole victims, Mr Clinton said: "To those who attacked them we say: You will not find a safe harbour. We will find you and justice will prevail. America will not stop standing guard for peace, for freedom or stability in the Middle East or around the world."
Vincent Cannistraro, the CIA's former head of counter-terrorist operations and a respected expert on Middle Eastern terrorism, said the timing, location and method of the attack pointed to Bin Laden's terrorist network, al-Qaeda. He said it was the only group in the area which has issued a fatwa (a religiously inspired death sentence) against US and British citizens.
Bin Laden, a Saudi national based in Afghanistan, has Yemeni family roots and close links with some of the local tribal warlords. A few weeks before the attack, he distributed a video in which he issued familiar calls for a holy war against the "forces of evil". He was wearing Yemeni tribal costume and a Yemeni dagger.
"He's puckish like that. On one hand he does not want to give out his address, but on the other hand, he likes to let his followers know he is leading the fight," Mr Cannistraro said.
He argued that the sophistication of the bomb - an estimated 272kg of high explosive shaped and placed within a metal container to channel the blast and penetrate the armoured hull of the USS Cole - suggested the involvement of a state.
"The Iraqis have wanted to be able to carry out terrorism for some time now," Mr Cannistraro said. "Their military people have had liaison with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and could well have supplied the training."
He said the theory was still speculative but was consistent with the series of recent contacts between Baghdad and the Bin Laden organisation.
Harvey Kushner, a terrorism expert at Long Island University, said there was reason to believe Bin Laden had been investigating ways of launching attacks by sea. "He's been looking around for small, personal submarines. One of his relatives in the United States had an order in for one of these personal submarines, and it was stopped," Mr Kushner said.
Other terrorism experts agreed the boat bomb was a significant technical advance on earlier terrorist attacks, such as the bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania two years ago.
The bodies of six of the US sailors killed in the blast were still being extracted from the wreckage left by the blast, which punched a 12-metre hole in the ship.
Investigators in Aden were studying video surveillance tapes of the port from the hours leading up to the attack.
-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), October 23, 2000
How did the terrorists know the Cole would refuel at Aden? This type of attack must have taken some time to organize. So, the terrorists knew well in advance the Cole would be in Aden.
-- David Williams (DAVIDWILL@prodigy.net), October 24, 2000.