Four arrests over Cole bombing

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Four men have been arrested in connection with last month's bombing of the USS Cole in which 17 American sailors were killed, sources close to the investigation said today.

Four men have been arrested in connection with last month's bombing of the USS Cole in which 17 American sailors were killed, sources close to the investigation said today.

They were tracked down through phone records, which showed that the suspected bombers had been in contact with them.

All live in the southern port city of Aden, where the two suspected suicide bombers blew up a small boat filled with explosives alongside the Cole October 12 as it prepared to refuel.

Investigations have also revealed that officials in Lahej, a stronghold of the militant Islamic Jihad, 22 miles north of Aden, provided the suspected bombers with government cars for use inside Aden and between Aden and Lahej.

The sources said the suspected bombers knew the officials previously from their time together in Afghanistan fighting against the Soviets in the 1980's.

The officials are believed to be affiliated with the Islamic Jihad, a group formed by veterans of the Afghan war, and had met several times with the suspected bombers since March, when preparations for the bombing are believed to have started.

According to the sources, the two men took their boat for a test ride in the harbor where the Cole was to dock, one month before the bombing. One of the fishermen who helped them take the boat down into the water is believed to have been an accomplice.

The Cole is being brought home from Yemen aboard a giant Norwegian transport ship on a long route that avoids the Suez Canal, the company in charge of the transport said.

Frederik Steenbuch, manager of Oslo-based Offshore Heavy Transport, said his company's ship, the Blue Marlin, sailed with the Cole aboard from the waters off Yemen yesterday, and would continue around Africa's Cape of Good Hope.

The ship was expected to complete the journey to its home port of Norfolk, Virginia, by about December 10, he said.

Previously, it had not been clear which route the ship would take. The shortest route would have been to sail through the Suez Canal in Egypt, but officials had expressed concern about the risk of terrorist attacks there.

Steenbuch refused to give any additional details about the route or the timing. Nor would he say how many US Navy or other American personnel were aboard the Blue Marlin, which has a civilian crew of 22.

The United States is pressing Yemeni authorities leading the probe to allow US agents a greater role in the investigation.

A Yemeni official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said authorities have turned down an American request to relay their questions to the detainees. He said that expanding the American role in the investigation is being discussed, but that his country's stand remains that the Americans cannot interrogate any Yemeni citizens.

There has been no responsibility claim considered credible in the strike on the Cole. American officials have said Osama bin Laden - America's number one terror suspect who has pledged to drive the US military out of the Middle East - is a focus of the bombing investigation. The Saudi millionaire is accused of masterminding the 1998 bombings on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Comments