Yemeni president calls USS Cole attack 'very well-planned' : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

ADEN, Yemen (CNN) -- Yemen's president said the bombing of the USS Cole was "a very well-planned operation, and it seems it was prepared a long while ago."

President Ali Abdullah Saleh told Qatar's Al-Jazeera Television on Wednesday that Yemeni security forces had uncovered the hideouts of the men, the car and the winch used to take their small boat to the water and the laboratory used to mix the explosives.

In Washington, a senior Pentagon official confirmed that significant leads had been uncovered in Yemen, including a boat trailer that might have been used to set up the attack and the nearby apartment where the bomb might have been assembled.

Saleh said it appeared the attack was carried out by two men who had been living in Yemen for no more than two months.

"Certainly they're Arabs, because they were seen praying -- eyewitnesses saw them as they were praying," Saleh said. He said while their nationalities had not been determined, one eyewitness reported the suspects' accents sounded Saudi.

Boy gave lead to investigators "There were two perpetrators of the attack -- based on eyewitness reports, there were two," Saleh said. "One had a beard and wore glasses."

The Yemeni leader also said the bearded man gave a 12-year-old boy some coins to watch his car at the beach while he carried a rubber boat into the water. The man never returned for his car, and Yemeni police were able to trace him back to the apartment.

The president said other Yemeni citizens had been helpful in the investigation. A 17-year-old boy even dove underneath the Cole and retrieved evidence for authorities, Saleh said.

Yemeni authorities have been rounding up large numbers of people for questioning, including members of Islamic militant groups, in their investigation into the attack. The October 12 blast blew a 40-foot by 40-foot (12-meter by 12-meter) hole in the midsection of the ship at the waterline, destroying an engine room and nearby mess area where sailors were eating lunch.

"Every Yemeni national, if he's a terrorist, he would be taken to court," the president said. "If he's an Arab or Israeli or anybody else, he would be brought to court and brought to trial."

But he said there are no firm leads on the nationalities of anyone who may have been involved in the plot.

"Let us continue our investigation," Saleh said. "We can't determine (anything) today."

Saleh said Yemen had good relations with the United States and would help U.S. officials in their probe.

"I hope the media is not going to blow up the relations we have," he said. "We are working together with the Americans to uncover the crime, and the details of the crime, that was perpetrated against the ship."

U.S. officials praised the Yemeni authorities.

"We are receiving extraordinary cooperation from the government of Yemen," National Security Adviser Sandy Berger told CNN early Wednesday.

"They are not just letting us investigate. They are investigating with us in a vigorous way. That has produced a number of significant developments," he said.

Bin Laden high on some suspect lists U.S. investigators have put former Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden high on the list of possible suspects. But U.S. officials emphasize it's much too early to conclude that his Afghanistan-based organization is responsible, and they have declined to discuss any evidence supporting that theory.

Bin Laden has been charged with murder in U.S. indictments stemming from the August 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 224 people.

In a statement faxed to CNN this week, representatives of Afghanistan's Taliban rulers in New York said Afghanistan protests "speculation by the media and others who point to Osama bin Laden as having a hand in perpetrating the terrorist attack in the port of Aden."

The statement said, "Osama bin Laden, who has sought refuge in Afghanistan, remains in the country under strict supervision. He is not permitted to make statements, communicate by any means, or conduct any activities that would threaten any other country, such as meeting with foreigners."

Despite the apparent progress in the Cole investigation, several sources contacted by CNN cautioned against expecting early conclusions.

"At this point it would be premature to say that Osama Bin Laden is responsible," said a senior FBI source. "It's certainly one of the running theories, but it's too early to say with any degree of certainty bin Laden's group -- or any group -- is responsible."

Nonetheless, some senior law enforcement officials privately acknowledge it would not be surprising if the investigation eventually leads to bin Laden's organization or individuals with ties to it.

One source characterized the investigation as "headed towards Osama, but we are not there yet." The source went on to say "he is at the top of our list."

Another official familiar with the investigation was more cautious. "It's tempting to just say 'he's it,' but you have to be very careful and see how the investigation unfolds," the official said.

The probe appeared to be making headway as FBI Director Louis Freeh left Washington for Yemen. An FBI source said Freeh's visit to meet his Yemeni counterparts would be brief, and said the visit to conduct meetings and "show the flag" should not be seen as related to the pace of the probe.

U.S. officials also confirmed the FBI laboratory had received the first evidence from the Cole. The material, which arrived in Washington on Monday night, according to one official includes swabs of explosives residue that investigators hope will help lead to those responsible for the bombing.

Cole recovery efforts In Yemen, the remaining crew aboard the Cole was not able to view the memorial held in their home port in Norfolk, Virginia, on TV "primarily because they're working hard 24 hours a day to keep the ship afloat," said Adm. Robert Natter, commander-in-chief of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet.

Of the 17 sailors killed in the bombing as the destroyer began a refueling stop in Aden, 13 bodies have been recovered, and the other four remain missing.

The remains of two sailors were removed from the wreckage Wednesday, and six bodies were recovered Tuesday.

The remains of all eight are being carried out of Yemen aboard a U.S. military aircraft bound for Dover Air Force Base in Delaware after a stop in Bahrain, the Navy said.

The Navy has signed a $4.5 million contract with the Norwegian owners of the heavy-lift ship Blue Marlin to carry the Cole back to a U.S. port after the FBI finishes its investigation aboard ship.

The Blue Marlin, currently in port in Dubai on the Persian Gulf, will head for Aden on Thursday and is expected to arrive four or five days later. About a week after that, it will begin hauling the Cole back to the United States, the Navy said.

Several U.S. warships have been sent to Yemen, on the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula, to support the salvage and investigation operation, code-named Determined Response. They will also provide extra security by ensuring that personnel can live on board ship rather than on land.

Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen will announce on Thursday the appointment of two retired senior military officers to head an independent investigation of the bombing, with special focus on whether there were security lapses

-- Martin Thompson (, October 19, 2000

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