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Yemenis May Have Erased Critical Tape, U.S. Officials Say
Oct. 31 B American officials suspect Yemeni authorities erased critical parts of a videotape recorded by a harbor surveillance camera the day the Cole was hit, ABCNEWS has learned The USS Cole is painstakingly loaded on to the deck of a cargo ship and welded to its deck.
The video could have contained crucial clues to what happened when the Cole was attacked on Oct. 12, killing 17 sailors and injuring 39. Earlier, Yemeni officials handed over a surveillance camera videotape of the harbor sought by the FBI, but it turned out to be useless. The camera was pointing in the wrong direction. American officials now wonder if YemenBs government might have something to hide. Cooperation between Yemeni and U.S. authorities seemed to break down completely today. YemenBs government B said to be apparently reacting to what its officials perceive as American arrogance B refused to allow any U.S. Navy helicopters to land on its soil today. That left American investigators stranded on warships where they now live. Last week, FBI investigators moved to a Navy ship offshore and are visiting Aden only as needed. Following President Ali Abdullah SalehBs election in October 1999, the government has taken a number of measures to fight the widely held perception of the country as a haven for international terrorist groups
Hitching a Ride The Cole was loaded today onto the Blue Marlin, a 700-foot-long Norwegian salvage ship. The 500-foot-long warship was placed at an angle so its propeller in the rear and its underwater sonar dome in the front would hang over the side. Using steel braces, the Cole is being welded to the deck of the Blue Marlin. The Navy estimates it will cost at least $150 million to repair the ship. But Pentagon sources say damage B especially to the keel B may be greater than first believed. This $1 billion warship, officials warn, may have to be scrapped. The Navy today also decided to bring the Cole home via the southern tip of Africa, instead of via the Suez Canal. They made the decision after U.S. officials conferred with Egyptian officials over security concerns. The canal, which connects the Red Sea and Mediterranean Sea, is owned by Egypt. The canal hasnBt been used by American ships since the Cole was attacked. U.S. military forces have been on heightened alert throughout the Middle East and other regions after the surprise attack. U.S. ships have also been banned from putting into any port in the Gulf (see related story on warnings to U.S. forces). The decision to go around Africa rather than through the canal stretches the ColeBs journey home from two weeks to three, and could cost the Egyptian government thousands of dollars. When an entire battle group goes through the canal, Egypt can earn as much as $1 million.
Another Appeal for Cooperation Meanwhile, the U.S. presence in Yemen continued to shrink, as many U.S. military and State Department personnel departed Aden on Monday. U.S. Ambassador Barbara Bodine was expected to return to YemenBs capital of SanBa. Bodine has said that the ColeBs departure did not mean the probe into the bombing has ended. BThis will be the second phase. B It will not be short. It will not be easy,B she said. President Clinton on Monday also appealed to Saleh for direct access to witnesses, suspects and evidence, saying the two countries should have Ba genuine, joint investigation.B Yemeni officials confirmed the questioning of sources and detainees was being conducted by Yemenis with no FBI agents present. Transcripts of the interrogations are sent to U.S. investigators who pose follow-up questions for Yemenis, the officials said. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Monday that Yemen Bhad to cooperate more.B
U.S. investigators said last week that they were frustrated by Yemeni investigators not giving them access to witnesses and suspects.
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), October 31, 2000
Islamic radicals thrive in Yemeni town
By SALAH NASRAWI, Associated Press
JA'AR, Yemen (November 1, 2000 9:36 a.m. EST http://www.nandotimes.com) - The run-down movie house once showed Western and Arab films to audiences coming from nearby villages in the former Marxist republic of South Yemen. Several years ago, a towering minaret was added and Quranic verses were painted on its whitewashed facade.
Ja'ar's movie house is now a mosque where Muslim radicals preach sermons calling for establishing an Islamic state.
For years Ja'ar, 50 miles northeast of Aden, has been a stronghold of Yemen's most militant Islamic groups - groups under a spotlight following the Oct. 12 attack on the USS Cole as it sat in Aden's port. The Cole bombing killed 17 servicemen and wounded 35 others.
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has confirmed that some members of the group Islamic Jihad have been detained for questioning in connection with the assault on Cole.
While radical groups have been forced to abandon their military camps in the rugged mountains surrounding Ja'ar, their members are still active in Ja'ar, delivering speeches and sermons peppered with anti- American rhetoric.
"They have only changed their skin and their tactics, but they do not seem to be less motivated than ever to pursue their goals," said Hussein Saeed Saleh, head of the town's branch of the Socialist Party, which ruled South Yemen before the 1990 merger with North Yemen.
When it was an independent state, South Yemen prided itself as the only secular country amid traditional societies on the Arabian Peninsula.
Today, alcohol is prohibited in Ja'ar, a dusty town with one main street and clusters of brick buildings about 10 miles from coast. Schools were forced to adopt a fundamentalist curriculum and women are banned from leaving their houses without draping themselves head- to-toe in black robes. Violators of the strict rules are subject to severe punishment, including public lashing.
The Aden-Abyan Islamic Army, which many believe remains capable of planning and mounting terrorist attacks, once had a base in the mountains above Ja'ar.
The group is believed to have been set up by Yemenis and other Arabs who fought in Afghanistan against the Soviets in the 1980s and later returned to their countries to wage a jihad, or holy war, against their own governments.
In 1994, the Aden-Abyan Islamic Army under Zein al-Abidine al-Mihdar fought alongside the northern forces in the civil war that ended the secessionist regime in the south. As a reward, President Saleh allowed them to function freely and even to open military training facilities. He appointed some Islamic extremists to military and government jobs.
The Aden-Abyan Islamic Army imposed its version of Islamic law in southern Yemen, closing down cinemas, bars and nightclubs. They even burned down a government-owned beer factory.
When the government tried to rein them in, they proclaimed the state anti-Islamic and began attacking security positions and oil pipelines and kidnapping foreign tourists.
Sources close to the group said al-Mihdar also began building closer relations with Osama bin Laden, whom he knew from Afghanistan.
Al-Mihdar applauded as "a heroic operation" the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people. Washington blames bin Laden for the bombings.
In a statement after the bombings, al-Mihdar called on all Yemenis to "kill the Americans and take their belongings and to destroy their facilities and bases which are under preparation in Aden, Hodeidah and Socotra."
Militants' activities in Yemen were no secret to the U.S. government, which has called Yemen a haven for terrorists. Now many in the United States are asking why the Cole and other U.S. ships would risk a visit to southern Yemen to refuel.
The Cole was scheduled Wednesday to leave Yemen's shores "in a few days' time," said Frederik Steenbuch, manager of the Norwegian company bringing the Cole back to the United States. The Cole has been loaded onto the deck of the Blue Marlin, a ship owned by Steenbuch's company, Offshore Heavy Transport. The trip home is expected to take about five weeks.
Four months after the attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa, the Aden- Abyan Army kidnapped 16 foreign tourists. Government soldiers stormed the hide-out near Ja'ar and four of the hostages died in the rescue attempt. Al-Mihdar was captured and later convicted in the hostages' deaths and executed.
The raid netted explosives, timing devices and a list of targets including the Royal Hotel in Aden, home to American soldiers helping the Yemeni army clear mines. And the army found with al-Mihdar many non-Yemeni Arabs, mostly Egyptian and Algerian Afghan war veterans, among them a member of Egypt's Islamic Group who was identified as a close assistant to the group's leader Ayman al-Zawahri, a senior leader of bin Laden's Al-Qaida terrorist network.
On Wednesday, Yassir Tawfiq el-Sirri, an Islamic activist who runs the London-based Islamic Observatory, said bin Laden and his supporters have evacuated hide-outs in Afghanistan, fearing Washington might launch a strike against them.
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), November 01, 2000.