- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 14, 2000

The State Department labeled Yemen a "haven for terrorists" in a global terrorism report released this year, but when the USS Cole moored there Thursday it was part of an attempt to improve diplomatic ties with that country, so U.S. Navy Admiral Vern Clark said yesterday. Come again? Such terrorist hand-holding, at the price of 17 dead U.S. sailors and 33 more wounded following Thursday's attack by suicide bombers on the ship shows American foreign policy at its worst.

Mr. Clark, the chief of naval operation, said this was "clearly a terrorist act," and Mr. Clinton has directed the Department of Defense, the FBI and the State Department to the region to investigate. Unfortunately, in the past such measures have not been enough to bring terrorists swiftly to justice or to prevent further acts of terrorism against the United States. Almost 12 years after PanAm 103 was bombed over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people, the accused are finally being tried. It also took four years for a Pakistani group called the Aimal Secret Committee to admit they were behind the murder of two CIA workers in 1993, the same amount of time it took for Ramzi Yousef to be convicted for conspiracy in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York.

Despite the United States' determination to stop terrorism in the face of the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Osama bin Laden who told Time magazine he had instigated the attacks still roams free. That is regardless of the fact that the FBI had evidence that Yemeni extremists who kidnapped 16 British, American and Australian tourists in 1999 were trained in bin Laden's camps. Now U.S. intelligence agencies say he dispatched another terrorist team a few days ago.

Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh is insisting that there are no terrorist elements in his country, even though yesterday morning the British embassy was bombed and the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad have official representatives in the country. The site of the USS Cole attack is also a base for the Islamic Army of Aden, founded by bin Laden's brother, Muhammad Khalifa, former CIA chief of counterterrorism Vincent Cannistraro said in an Associated Press report.

The United States cannot complacently expect encouraging diplomatic ties with known terrorist sponsors will result in anything but harm to its national security. Nor should it let endless investigations provide a protected playground for those who want to wage war on American national security.

Senior Pentagon officials say the attack took weeks, possibly months to organize a sophisticated attack that would be hard to pull off without the backing of another country or larger terrorist group. Such forces should know that when they choose to attack the Navy of the United States, they must fear a strong military response appropriate from a superpower. Unfortunately to this point, they have learned to expect otherwise.

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