in the offing
by Brian Whitaker
Originally published in Middle East
International, 22 December, 2000
eager to close the file on the bombing of the USS Cole, is hoping
to put suspects on trial early in January. But the United States
is urging less haste, on the grounds that more time is needed to
complete investigations and prepare for a fair and credible trial.
The two men who carried out the attack in Aden harbour on
October 12 are believed to have died in the explosion. Blood
samples have been taken from people thought to be related to the
bombers, and American experts are checking these against the DNA
in "confetti-sized" fragments of human tissue recovered
from the scene.
One of the bombers has been provisionally named as Abd
al-Muhsin al-Taifi, a Yemeni national, possibly with Saudi
connections, who was wanted for questioning about the 1998 bombing
of the American embassy in Nairobi.
Although six suspected accomplices have been reported to Yemen’s
public prosecutor, reports suggest that not all will be tried and
that some will give evidence as witnesses. Four more suspects -
who may have fled the country - are still being sought.
Among the arrested suspects, the most important is Jamal
al-Badawi, who told investigators he received telephone
instructions for the bombing from a man named Mohammed Omar
al-Harazi in the United Arab Emirates. Badawi said he had met
Harazi in Afghanistan during the war but had not seen him since.
Harazi, who is believed to have financed the attack, is a Saudi
citizen born to a Yemeni family in the Haraz region. He is said to
have made regular visits to Aden from the UAE - most recently in
October, though he disappeared four days before the bombing and is
still at large.
Other arrested suspects are Jamal Ba Khorsh, who was apparently
recruited to videotape the attack but failed to do so; Yasser
al-Azzani, who entertained the bombers to lunch at his home in
Aden on the day before the attack; Ahmad al-Shinni, about whom
nothing has been disclosed; and two police officers from Lahej
province who provided false identification and other documents for
the bombers but may not have been aware of the plot.
Attention has also focused on Raed Hijazi, American citizen of
Palestinian origin, who used to drive a taxi in Boston. He was
recently handed over from Syria to Jordan, where he had been
sentenced to death in his absence. The American authorities
reportedly want to extradite him for trial in the US in connection
with the Cole bombing.
After weeks of friction between the FBI and Yemeni
investigators, both sides signed an agreement on procedure at the
end of November. A State Department official said the deal "meets
the need of both sides in terms of being able to conduct their
investigations in a manner that is consistent with their legal
This allows FBI investigators to attend interviews with
witnesses and suspects, and to submit written questions. The FBI
has also been given access to documents and has been allowed to
take physical evidence for analysis.
However, the Americans still have concerns about the
forthcoming trial, which will be conducted according to Islamic
principles, without a jury. They have urged the Yemenis to ensure
that the defendants have no grounds to complain about procedural
irregularities, torture, or anything else what might damage the
Last year, the trial of 10 young men from Britain who were
accused of plotting to cause explosions in Aden was marred by
allegations from some of the defendants that they had been
tortured and sexually abused.
One reason for the American presence at interrogations is to
enable FBI officers to give evidence, if necessary, that
statements were not extracted through torture.
The Americans have also indicated that they want as much
evidence as possible to be handled in a way which makes it
admissible in US courts, as well as those in Yemen. This may
indicate that the Americans are contemplating bringing further
charges against the suspects in the US, or that they believe some
of the evidence might be useful in other terrorism cases in the
Latest US Navy estimates put the cost of repairing the damage
to USS Cole at $240 million - $70 milllion more than originally
thought. The high-technology guided missile destroyer cost $1
billion to build.