Yemen says USS Cole attack was work of international terrorism

SAN'A, Yemen - The United States itself bears some responsibility for the attack on the USS Cole because it helped create the terrorists who now consider America their worst enemy, Yemen's foreign minister said Monday.

Speaking in an interview with The Associated Press, Foreign Minister Abdulkader Bajammal also said Yemen wants to work closely with the United States to combat terrorism.

''The operation was not Yemeni, not pure Yemeni,'' Bajammal said. ''It is a network involving so many countries. Terrorism has no nation.''

No one has yet been charged in the Oct. 12 bombing of the USS Cole, which killed 17 sailors and wounded 39. Asked if any indictments were forthcoming, Bajammal said he had no information, noting it was not his area of responsibility.

But Bajammal said that if any Yemenis are found to have been involved, they may have simply been corrupt bureaucrats who provided logistical help in exchange for ''a little baksheesh,'' - or payoffs - not out of ideology.

''We are a victim of terrorism, not a source of terrorism,'' Bajammal added.

The attack on the Cole followed anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli protests in Yemen and across an Arab world enraged by violence in Palestinian areas. Nearly 300 people - mostly Palestinians - have been killed in Israeli-Palestinian clashes since September.

But the roots of anti-American terrorism are older and deeper, running back to the 1980s when one of the last-gasp Cold War battles was waged in the rugged mountains and valleys of Afghanistan.

Bajammal said that because the investigation was continuing, he could not comment on the possibility that Yemeni or other Arab veterans of the Afghan war were involved in the Cole attack.

But, he said, ''Terrorism did not appear by accident. It is a historical phenomenon. Just as the Soviet Union created a man like (the international terrorist) Carlos, the other side created the Afghan Arabs. We have inherited the remnants of the Cold War.''

In Washington, a senior U.S. official said the Clinton administration rejects any suggestion that the United States is somehow responsible for the Cole attack. He spoke on condition of anonymity.

Yemen, whose central government is struggling to expand authority over tribal areas, has long been a haven for Muslim extremists, including groups linked to Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden, a veteran of the Afghan war who today is America's No. 1 terrorist suspect.

Bin Laden was one of the thousands of fighters from across the Arab world who went to Afghanistan after the 1979 Soviet incursion to fight alongside Afghan guerrillas, whose chief financial and military backers included the United States.

After the Soviets withdrew in 1989, many so-called Afghan Arabs turned their anger against the United States, which they see as a threat to Islam and to Arab independence. Bin Laden continues to live in Afghanistan, where he periodically issues calls for violence against the United States.

Yemeni leaders, embarrassed to have a U.S. ship attacked in their waters just as they were trying to expand relations with Washington, at first rejected the idea that Yemenis could have had anything to do with the Cole attack.

But Yemeni sources close to the inquiry, speaking on condition of anonymity, have said several Yemenis had key roles in organizing the attack. Other Yemenis working for the government allegedly helped the bombers by providing fake identification and other documents.

Bajammal said his government wants stronger ties with the United States, despite signs of anti-American sentiment among the Yemeni people.

The United States and Yemen signed an agreement last week calling for cooperation between U.S. and Yemeni investigators trying to determine who was behind the bombing of the USS Cole after it entered Aden harbor for refueling.

Details of the cooperation agreement have not been officially released. A U.S. law enforcement official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said in Washington last week that the agreement called for FBI agents to observe interviews of witnesses and suspects and submit questions for Yemeni agents to ask. U.S. officials have said this arrangement preserves Yemeni sovereignty, while allowing FBI agents to testify later in U.S. courts, if charges are brought there, that torture was not used to extract statements.

Bajammal said he hoped for more and broader agreements with the United States. He said Yemen needed U.S. technology, equipment and training to strengthen security and fight terrorism.

A U.S. official in San'a, speaking on condition of anonymity, said cooperation between the United States and Yemen was likely to increase in the aftermath of attack on the Cole. The Cole and other U.S. warships that patrol the Gulf had been refueling at Yemen's southern port of Aden as part of an effort to bring the United States and Yemen closer.

Yemeni investigators have reportedly completed their probe and recommended to prosecutors that at least two unidentified people be charged in the bombing. It was not clear when prosecutors would act or whether a trial would begin before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan ends in late December.


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