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U.S. Troops Again Face Guns in Kuwait

Gulf: No Americans are hurt and the would-be assailants escape, a day after slaying of Marine.

October 10, 2002|JOHN HENDREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — American soldiers encountered gunmen Wednesday in the second such incident in Kuwait in two days, defense officials said, intensifying security concerns in a Persian Gulf ally that would be likely to play a prominent role in any U.S. attack on Iraq.

One of two men in a pickup truck aimed a rifle at soldiers after pulling abreast of their Humvee, a defense official said. The soldiers fired at the car, forcing it off the road before driving on, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Another Pentagon spokesman said the U.S. fire hit the hood of the other vehicle and that no one was injured in the incident.

The two men later claimed to have held only a cell phone, not a gun, Associated Press reported. There was no immediate confirmation of that assertion.

The confrontation was the latest in a series of incidents--some believed to be linked to the Al Qaeda terrorist network--that have prompted officials to increase security for troops around the globe and consider the prospect that the episodes might mark a coordinated series of terrorist attacks.

Wednesday's incident followed the fatal shooting Tuesday of Marine Lance Cpl. Antonio Sledd, 20, of Hillsborough, Fla., and the wounding of a second Marine on a Kuwaiti island. The two gunmen were shot and killed by Marines.

Defense officials said Tuesday's assailants apparently trained at Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. U.S. intelligence agents believe that at least one is related to a Kuwaiti being held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, a senior defense official said on condition of anonymity.

Kuwaiti officials said Wednesday that they had rounded up 50 people suspected of conspiring in Tuesday's shooting.

Last week, a motorcycle bomb killed American Green Beret Sgt. 1st Class Mark Wayne Jackson and injured a second U.S. soldier in the southern Philippine city of Zamboanga, where U.S. forces are training local soldiers in counter-terrorism measures.

It remained unclear whether an explosion on a French oil tanker off the coast of Yemen was an industrial accident, as the Yemeni government contends, or a terrorist attack similar to the October 2000 bombing of the U.S. destroyer Cole in the same waters.

Many U.S. officials expressed concern that American soldiers were being targeted in Kuwait, a staunch ally, where even comparatively radical Muslim groups have declined to condemn the presence of U.S. troops, who have been there since 1991, when a U.S.-led coalition drove Iraqi soldiers out of the small Persian Gulf nation.

A U.S. official familiar with Kuwait said that in 2000, Kuwait revealed that it had uncovered a group with connections to Al Qaeda whose members had used novel means to arm themselves: They had scoured the desert and recovered U.S. and other weapons left behind in the Gulf War.

"There was tons of stuff left behind," the U.S. official said.

The materiel included long-range rockets. Though some pieces of equipment were not operational, they could be used for parts.

There are about 10,000 U.S. troops and more than 400 British soldiers in Kuwait, including regularly stationed soldiers and U.S. Marines who are training local military personnel.

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Times staff writer Robin Wright contributed to this report.

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