Letter Seems to Tie Official to Cole Plot

August 26, 2004|From Associated Press

SANA, Yemen — Yemen's former interior minister helped the alleged mastermind of the attack on the U.S. destroyer Cole to pass through security checkpoints in the months leading up to the 2000 bombing, according to a document read aloud in court Wednesday by a defense lawyer for five of the suspects.

Lawyer Abdul Aziz Samawi read an official letter by former Interior Minister Hussein Mohammed Arab, who was removed in April 2001, instructing security authorities to give "safe passage to Sheik Mohammed Omar al Harazi with three bodyguards without being searched or intercepted. All security forces are instructed to cooperate with him and facilitate his missions."

The order was valid from April 2000 until the end of 2000. The Cole was attacked Oct. 12.

The letter alleging a government role in facilitating terrorist activities appeared to shock prosecutors, and even security guards exchanged bewildered looks. Officials at the Interior and Foreign ministries refused to comment.

The court accepted the letter as evidence, while the prosecutor, Saeed Aqel, crumpled a copy and threw it down in disgust.

Yemen tolerated Islamic extremists for many years, but after the Sept. 11 attacks its government cracked down on militants and aligned itself with the U.S.-led war on terrorism. It has received U.S. military aid, such as counter-terrorism training for its soldiers.

Harazi is one of the names used by Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, a sixth defendant and the alleged mastermind of the attack in which two suicide bombers rammed an explosives-laden boat into the Cole as it refueled in Aden. Seventeen American sailors were killed.

Al Nashiri, who is being tried in absentia, is in U.S. custody at an undisclosed location.

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