U.S. military vessels avoid Suez Canal

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U.S. military vessels avoid Suez Canal in wake of increased threats No U.S. military vessels have passed through the Suez Canal since October 12, significantly lengthening the trip between the the upper Indian Ocean basin and the North Atlantic October 30, 2000 Web posted at: 6:35 p.m. EST (2335 GMT)

CNN Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.

WASHINGTON -- Concerns about a possible terrorist threat in the Suez Canal have prompted a ban on U.S. Navy vessels using the waterway, a decision that will extend the USS Cole's journey back to the United States.

U.S. Navy ships have avoided the artificial waterway connecting the Mediterranean Sea and Red Sea since October 12 on orders from Vice Adm. Charles Moore, head of the U.S. 5th Fleet, Pentagon sources said. The ban does not apply to U.S. commercial vessels.

For the USS Cole, the ban means a return trip home around the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa -- a route adding about one week to the normal two-week journey to the United States, sources said.

Officially, however, the U.S. Navy won't confirm the route the Cole is taking, saying it does not discuss future ship movements.

Cole prepares for trip home The crippled Cole was towed out of the port of Aden on Sunday, leaving the harbor where 17 sailors died and 39 were injured on October 12 in what officials believe was a suicide attack by bombers in a small boat packed with explosives.

U.S. officials said the Cole was successfully loaded Monday onto the Norwegian heavy-lift transport ship, the Blue Marlin. It should leave the Gulf of Aden in a day or two, officials said. U.S. Navy officials confirmed there were ongoing talks with Egypt's government about security along the 101-mile long Suez Canal, and that U.S. officials were satisfied that Egypt is providing good security along the vital waterway.

A Pentagon official said several U.S. Navy ships that had been scheduled to pass through the canal since the Cole attack were rerouted.

Threat against ships in canal CNN reported October 20 that an Egyptian, whom the United States considers a terrorist leader, had made a vague threat against U.S. warships using the canal.

Two days earlier, the U.S. government translated a broadcast on the Doha Al-Jazeera Satellite Channel suggesting a terrorist threat in the Suez Canal. An announcer quoted Rifa'i Ahmad Taha, a leader of the armed Islamic Jama-ah in Egypt, as urging "Egyptian soldiers and citizens to follow the example of those who attacked the U.S. destroyer in Aden." It pointed out that "that these warships always travel through the Suez Canal."

Most of the canal has only a single traffic lane, with several passing bays. There are no locks because the Mediterranean Sea and the Gulf of Suez have roughly the same elevation.

The canal is a major commercial transit point, with more than 25,000 vessels passing through it every year.

American presence reduced in Aden The U.S. Navy destroyer USS Cole is towed from the port city of Aden, Yemen, into open seas on Sunday With the Cole's departure, the U.S. presence in Aden dropped Monday as more members of a crisis-response team left the city.

U.S. Ambassador Barbara Bodine was expected to return to the Yemeni capital Sanaa later Monday, leaving behind a small American contingent supporting the FBI investigation into the attack.

The U.S. team has moved to a hotel outside the city center because security arrangements around its headquarters at a downtown hotel had disrupted traffic. FBI investigators moved to a Navy ship last week and were expected to visit Aden on an as-needed basis.

U.S. asks Yemen for more cooperation Bodine said Sunday that the Cole's departure did not mean the investigation has ended.

"This will be the second phase. ... It will not be short. It will not be easy," she said.

U.S. President Bill Clinton, meanwhile, has appealed for greater cooperation from Yemen in the investigation of the bombing, saying the United States needs direct access to witnesses, suspects and evidence.

Clinton told reporters at the White House on Monday that he hoped Yemen will give American investigators all the access they need to witnesses and suspects.

Vice Adm. Charles Moore "They were just great, the Yemenis were in the beginning of this -- the first phase of this work," Clinton told reporters. "And I think, you know, there have been difficulties now, I think not because they don't want to find out who did it, but perhaps because they are worried about having America deploy more resources in Yemen to do the investigation."

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Monday that Yemen "had to cooperate more" as the United States searches for possible links to Islamic militant Osama bin Laden, though American officials have said they have no hard evidence he directed the attack.

"We think it's very important for them to be as cooperative as possible in trying to resolve this great tragedy," Albright said on ABC's "Good Morning America." "And I think that we have to figure out whether this leads to Osama bin Laden or not. I am not prepared to make that point. But clearly, terrorism that is directed by him is a threat to the United States and to all our peoples."

U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen, during an appearance Monday at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, said, "We are looking very closely at Osama bin Laden to see whether or not he, in fact, or organizations he supports, are in some way connected." No judgment will be made on whether bin Laden was involved until the FBI concludes its investigation, Cohen said.

"It's premature at this point to name anyone responsible," Cohen said.

Most of the Cole's crew of about 300 remained aboard the destroyer following the attack. A small number were to stay on the destroyer for the trip back to the United States; the rest were to be flown home.

The Navy has said it intends to repair the Cole and return it to service, although it has not yet said where the work will be done.

The Navy has told the U.S. Congress it may take $150 million to repair the Cole, which cost $1 billion to build.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), October 30, 2000

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