Bomb materials found in Yemen home

Herald news services

ADEN, Yemen — Investigators found bomb-making equipment in an apartment near the port of Aden and have connected as many as two former occupants to the suicide bombing that killed 17 sailors aboard the USS Cole, security officials said Tuesday.

U.S. authorities would not comment directly on the disclosure. But the ambassador, Barbara Bodine, described the investigation as advancing "a quantum leap."

On Tuesday, divers and other crew members using metal-slicing torches and crowbars pulled six more bodies from the tangled bowels of the Cole. Six victims remain trapped near the blast site.

In Virginia, four of the more seriously wounded Cole sailors arrived at Norfolk Naval Station on stretchers after a flight from Germany. Most of the 39 injured sailors had arrived in Virginia over the weekend, while two critically injured shipmates remain at the military’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in western Germany.

Yemeni officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, identified the men missing from the apartment only as non-Yemeni Arabs. Other Yemeni sources said they were from neighboring Saudi Arabia, but an Interior Ministry spokesman told the state news agency SABA that there was no link to Saudi Arabia.

There were conflicting reports as to whether two, four or six men had stayed in the house for several days before the bombing. All apparently have now disappeared.

Clinton administration officials said the people who vacated the apartment are not believed to be the same two who died carrying out the attack. The reasoning, sources said, is that someone who can successfully build powerful, complex explosives is deemed too valuable to die carrying out a suicide attack.

Moments before the huge blast Thursday, two men were seen standing on the deck of a small vessel alongside the destroyer, U.S. authorities said. A 40-by-40-foot hole was blown into the Cole’s hull and the attacking ship disintegrated into "confetti size" pieces.

The Yemeni officials would give no further information on the material found in the apartment, but said the missing men arrived in Yemen four days before Thursday’s attack.

Bodine declined to comment on details of the case or speculate on possible links to larger terrorist groups, including that of Afghan-based Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden. She stressed that the investigation would continue.

Bin Laden, a Saudi national of Yemeni heritage, on Tuesday warned the United States not to attack his home in Afghanistan, where fears have grown of a retaliatory strike to the Yemen ship bombing.

There has been no credible claim of responsibility for the deadliest terrorist attack on the U.S. military since the 1996 bombing of an Air Force barracks in Saudi Arabia that killed 19.

FBI Director Louis Freeh, who said Tuesday that he was heading to Yemen, transferred the investigation from Washington to the command of John O’Neill in the New York field office, which handled the East African embassy bombing cases. But U.S. officials denied this meant they could link the blast to bin Laden at this point.

The full FBI team is expected to swell to 100 agents. Seventy are already in Aden, and 30 others are waiting in Germany for accommodations to be arranged.

A memorial service for victims of the bombing is scheduled Woday at Norfolk Naval Station, the Cole’s home port in Virginia. President Clinton and Defense Secretary William Cohen plan to attend.

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