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Vehicle Linked to Blast Is Found, Yemenis Say

Investigation: Clues provided by a boy led to a car and trailer believed used in the Cole attack, leader declares.

October 19, 2000|DAVID KELLY and BOB DROGIN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

ADEN, Yemen — Local investigators looking into last week's assault here on the guided missile destroyer Cole found the vehicle and trailer that carried a small boat used in the bombing, Yemen's president announced Wednesday.

"We were able to discover the car that transported the boat, and the launcher that lowered the boat, and we found the workshop that made the engine and the house that the people who carried out the crime were living in," President Ali Abdullah Saleh told Qatar's satellite television network Al Jazeera.

"The attack had been planned for a long time," Saleh said.

The landlord of a dwelling here where bomb-making equipment was found earlier this week was taken into custody Wednesday by police investigating last week's attack on the U.S. warship, Yemeni officials said.

A small boat packed with explosives blew a 40-by-40-foot hole in the port side of the Cole as the warship was preparing to refuel here last Thursday. The attack killed 17 U.S. sailors and wounded 39 others.

Investigators found explosives and diving equipment inside the vehicle, the Yemeni daily newspaper Al Ayyam reported Wednesday. The landlord said the dwelling had been rented for a month to at least one Arab from outside Yemen, the newspaper reported, and police had determined that a tenant gave the landlord forged identification documents.

The rental agent for the property, variously described as a house or an apartment, also reportedly was detained.

Neighbors in the isolated Buraka district of Aden said the men who occupied the dwelling had a small boat and spoke with the accent of Arabs from the Persian Gulf region. The boat has not been found.

A high-ranking Yemeni security official confirmed an earlier report that bomb-making equipment was found inside the dwelling here but denied reports that at least two men staying at the home were Saudis.

The security official and others were only willing to discuss the sensitive investigation on condition of anonymity. U.S. and Yemeni officials have released few details of their joint investigation into the attack on the Cole.

Prince Turki al Faisal, Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief and one of that nation's most powerful men, arrived here Wednesday with bodyguards, including one with a gold-plated submachine gun. His reason for being in the area was not known.

In his interview with Al Jazeera, President Saleh said a 12-year-old Yemeni boy had provided information that led police to the dwelling. The boy told police that he was near the port last Thursday when a bearded man gave him money to watch a car. The man left the scene in a rubber boat and had not returned, the boy said.

Police apparently traced the man back to the dwelling.

The area around the dwelling was blockaded by the local military Wednesday while Yemeni and U.S. investigators looked for clues. According to Yemeni officials, the building is new and located in an area of Buraka called Khaisa, which includes both fishing huts and homes for government officials.

The area also overlooks the Port of Aden and offers a view of ships coming and going into the harbor. It provides easy access to the water and to ships nearby.

On Wednesday, the bodies of two more American sailors were recovered from the damaged hull of the Cole. The bodies, and six others recovered Tuesday, were put aboard a military transport plane and sent to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Five bodies were returned to the U.S. last weekend; four others are still trapped in the damaged hull of the 8,600-ton destroyer.

Physical evidence taken from the stricken Cole was flown to Washington on Wednesday and will be analyzed at FBI headquarters. FBI Director Louis J. Freeh was heading for Aden to supervise the early stages of the investigation, according to a bureau spokesman who asked not to be identified.

In recent days, teams of FBI and Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents have collected traces of explosive residue and other evidence from the warship, as well as from the clothes of sailors caught in the blast.

Once in the lab, the evidence probably will be compared with bomb-making and other material collected in Yemen.

So far, the FBI has not determined the size or makeup of the bomb, the spokesman said. Nor have investigators identified the suicide bombers or their sponsors.

"We haven't had any determination of culpability," said P. J. Crowley, a White House spokesman.

The State Department warned Americans on Wednesday to use caution and avoid unnecessary travel to the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Peninsula and Turkey. Spokesman Philip T. Reeker said the department had received "indications about possible planning for terrorist actions" in those regions.

*

Kelly reported from Aden and Drogin from Washington.

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