USAMA bin Laden dunnit, probably with help from Saddam Hussein. The American media have already reached their conclusions about the attack on the guided-missile destroyer, USS Cole, in Aden harbour on October 12.

It would certainly be an affront to the prestige of the US Navy to suggest that anyone other than America’s two leading hate figures, working hand in hand, could inflict such devastating damage on a $1 billion high-technology warship, killing 17 sailors, injuring 39 and blowing a 40-ft gash in vessel’s side.

This explanation also suits the authorities in Sana’a, since it spares them the embarrassment that would ensue if the attackers were run-of-the-mill Yemeni terrorists.

The American account of events is that as the warship made a brief refuelling stop, some way off shore, an inflatable dinghy came alongside and exploded. The two occupants of the dinghy are presumed to have died.

A few hours later, a bomb caused "considerable" damage to the British embassy in Sana’a, including the ambassador’s office. The two attacks may or may not be related.

The bombing of the USS Cole has been described – for no obvious reason other than salvaging American pride – as "sophisticated".

But it seems more likely that the attack succeeded because it was of such an old-fashioned kind that naval architects, concerned only with high-technology warfare, never considered it a possibility.

According to Paul Beaver, of Jane's Defence Weekly, the ship was "designed to withstand saturation attacks by Russian aircraft and all sorts of things," but "not designed for asymmetrical warfare … it's not what people expect these days."

Americans also suggest that the bombers must have gained secret knowledge of the warship’s unannounced arrival. But its approach would not have been difficult to spot in the narrow waters of the Suez Canal and Red Sea.

Even without advance warning, the attackers would not have had to wait many days for a target, since between three and six US naval ships refuel in Aden each month.

The embassy bombing, in contrast, has been presented as an unplanned, opportunistic attack. This may, however, be wrong. Either the bombers were remarkably lucky or they had done their homework.

The bomb, which is thought to have been thrown over a wall on the least-protected side of the embassy compound, maximised damage by hitting an outdoor fuel tank supplying an emergency generator. The fuel tank was not visible from the street.

So far, no specific evidence pointing to Bin Laden has been disclosed, but three groups have claimed responsibility for the Aden attack - the Islamic Army of Aden-Abyan and two groups previously unknown in Yemen: the Army of Mohammed and the Islamic Defence Force.

TheIslamic Armyachieved notoriety in December 1998, when it kidnapped 16 mainly British tourists in southern Yemen. Four of the tourists died during a rescue by Yemeni security forces, and the leader of the Islamic Army at the time – Abu al-Hassan al-Mihdar - was later executed.

The group – one of three offshoots of the Jihad organisation which carried out numerous attacks in Yemen in the early 1990s - included veterans of the Afghan war and Islamists from various countries, though many Yemenis doubt that it still exists.

Readers will recall the Islamic Army’s links with Abu Hamza al-Masri, the imam of Finsbury Park mosque in London, and the Britons – still serving jail sentences in Yemen – for plotting to attack American and British targets in Aden.

In common with many Islamist terrorist groups, the Islamic Army also had links with bin Laden. At one point, when the Yemeni government tried to close the Islamic Army’s training camp, a bin Laden representative attempted to mediate.

In Yemen, the developing military relationship with the United States has aroused the wrath of various – but mainly Islamist – opposition groups.

In 1998, Yemen and the US held their first joint military exercises, and the US provided help in clearing mines left behind by the 1994 north-south war. There have been persistent rumours –officially denied - that the US would like to establish a military base in the country.

Over the last couple of years there have been occasional visits to Yemen by both ships and senior US officers. Yemeni officers have been invited to visit the US, and the American military also helped to remove land mines around Aden which were left over from the 1994 civil war.

Last year, the Defense Department transferred its Red Sea strategic fuel storage depot from Djbouti to Aden.

There were several reasons for the move. One was political, because the US wanted, as it put it, to "re-engage" with Yemen which in 1990 had offended the west by its ambivalent attitude towards Iraq.

General Anthony Zinni, head of US Central Command, regarded Yemen as a useful country to cultivate in case any of America’s other allies in the Arabian Peninsula and Gulf region "went south" (i.e. turned against the US). In addition, the military noted that Yemen is beyond the reach of existing medium-range ballistic missiles.

There were also practical and economic factors for the move to Aden. Djibouti harbour was very cramped, and refuelling there could take up to 48 hours, compared with 4-5 hours in Aden. Aden is only about five miles off the main sea lane, which again saves time. Fuel storage charges in Aden are said to be lower than anywhere else in the region.

Refuelling takes place at a water-borne refuelling platform known as a dolphin. According to a US military source, the dolphin used by USS Cole is commercially-run and lies about 600 metres out in the sea west of the historic Prince of Wales pier and about 100 metres east of CalTex island.

The fuel contractor is Arab Investment and Trading, which is owned by a millionaire Yemeni living in London but also has heavy Saudi investment.

So far, Yemen’s efforts to track down the attackers have found favour with the US. President Ali Abdullah Salih, recognising the potential for damage to relations, appeared quickly in Aden, visiting the injured in hospital.

A couple of days later, the government-run newspaper, al-Thawra, showed the president chairing a security committee and interviewing officials in his shirt-sleeves.