By DONNA ABU-NASR
ADEN, Yemen — One of the men believed to have bombed the destroyer USS Cole is an Egyptian, and several senior members of a Muslim militant group have been detained in connection with the blast, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said Wednesday.
Saleh said the detainees — including Yemenis, Egyptians and Algerians — belonged to Islamic Jihad. He described the group as consisting of Arabs who fought Soviet troops in Afghanistan.
Terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden was prominently involved in the Afghanistan resistance, but Saleh declined to say whether the attackers or detainees had any connection to bin Laden’s Al-Qaida group.
The president said his government had deported members of Islamic Jihad, but that "pockets remain in hiding, dressed in Yemeni clothes."
He said an eyewitness had identified one of the bomber suspects as an Egyptian.
An earlier report said the suspects spoke with a Saudi accent. "It’s possible to imitate an accent," Saleh said when asked whether his disclosure contradicted the earlier report.
The Oct. 12 attack on the Cole killed 17 U.S. sailors and wounded 39 others. Officials believe two suicide bombers maneuvered a small boat next to the destroyer and detonated the bomb.
Also Wednesday, sources close to the investigation said authorities had detained a Yemeni carpenter who allegedly helped the Cole’s attackers refit their boat to carry explosives and a woman who bought the car they used to haul the boat.
The Yemeni sources said charges had not yet been filed in either case.
The carpenter confessed Tuesday that he had helped two men modify a small boat to carry explosives and then helped them load the explosives into the boat. It was not immediately clear if the man knew what the two planned to do with the bomb-laden boat. He was not named.
The carpenter had rented the men the house they used to work on the boat, Yemeni sources said. They said he was detained a day after the bombing but had provided details of his involvement only on Tuesday.
Yemeni investigators have increasingly turned their attention to the network the bombers used to plan and carry out the attack.
If terrorism is proved, the Cole bombing would be the deadliest terrorist attack on the U.S. military since 19 Air Force personnel died in a 1996 truck-bomb explosion in Saudi Arabia.
A U.S. official, meanwhile, slightly altered the account of threat conditions at the time of the bombing.
A senior U.S. official said Wednesday that the Cole was in the third-highest state of alert when it entered the port Oct. 12. The Navy had earlier said the Cole and its crew were at the second-highest level.
Ships normally enter Aden at the third-highest level of alert, and there was apparently no reason to suspect Oct. 12 would be out of the ordinary. At the next highest level, a security boat might have accompanied the Cole, among other measures.
During a hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, senators said that a Pentagon intelligence expert on terrorism in the Persian Gulf warned of possible terrorist attacks on U.S. forces there before the bombing of the USS Cole, but that higher-ups failed to pass the information to military commanders.
The intelligence official, whose name was not disclosed, resigned in protest the day after the Cole attack Oct. 12 in Yemen, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., said the allegations made by the Pentagon intelligence official would be discussed in detail during a closed-door committee hearing with several Pentagon officials, including Wilson of the Defense Intelligence Agency, for whom the official worked.
"What he felt is that his assessment was not given that proper level of consideration by his superiors and, as such, was not incorporated in" the final intelligence reports given to military commanders in the Gulf, Warner told reporters after the hearing.
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