Too soon to tie bin Laden to Cole blast, official says

Associated Press and The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary William Cohen said Wednesday it is too early to conclude that suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden was behind the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen.

Speaking with reporters in his Pentagon office, Cohen was asked whether evidence collected so far by U.S. and Yemeni investigators points to bin Laden, the exiled Saudi millionaire who is wanted by the FBI in connection with the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa.

"We can’t say that at this point," Cohen responded. "That’s a conclusion that hopefully the FBI will be able to reach (soon), in terms of who is responsible and who we can hold accountable. Osama bin Laden is one that we will continue to look at, but it is by no means definitive at this point as to who was responsible for this."

Bin Laden has called for a holy war on the United States and vowed to drive the U.S. military out of the Middle East.

The Cole, a guided-missile destroyer, was refueling in Aden harbor on Oct. 12 when a small boat loaded with explosives maneuvered to the ship’s side and the bomb was detonated, blowing a 40-by-40-foot hole in the hull and killing 17 sailors.

Meanwhile, Yemen and the United States are discussing arrangements to let FBI agents watch interviews of suspects in the bombing of the destroyer Cole through a one-way mirror or on live TV relay, officials said Wednesday.

The FBI would then be permitted to pass written questions to the Yemeni investigators for them to raise, the two sides say.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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