Wednesday, November 28, 2001

The White House yesterday praised Yemen’s contribution to the war on terrorism, lauding the country site of a deadly terrorist attack last year against a U.S. Navy warship for its newfound cooperation with international efforts.

While the country offered little support during the early investigation into the bombing of the USS Cole, an attack believed to be directed by Osama bin Laden that killed 17 American sailors, President Ali Abdullah Saleh has cooperated since the September 11 attacks, Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

“They have shown a helpful new energy in combating terrorism,” Mr. Fleischer said, adding that President Bush “is pleased particularly with the follow-up on investigation of the Cole.”

For instance, he said, after September 11, Yemen agreed to delay a key trial in the case until more evidence was collected.

“The government was going to do a trial. The United States asked that a trial not take place so additional evidence could be gathered. Yemen has agreed to do that,” Mr. Fleischer said.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Saleh met privately for about half an hour yesterday. The two leaders talked mostly about the international war on terrorism, touching on intelligence sharing, law enforcement and the 1998 explosion at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. They also discussed last month’s bombing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in which an American was one of two persons killed, according to National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormick.

The leaders briefly talked about “regional stability” in the Middle East, he said.

In an earlier private meeting with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, the Yemeni leader agreed to pursue the anti-terrorism campaign, first against bin Laden’s al Qaeda and then against other terrorist groups, according to State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

“The president of Yemen agreed that this was a long-term struggle, that terrorism had hurt Yemen as well, and that they were as determined as we are to get at terrorism,” Mr. Boucher said.

He added that Mr. Saleh expressed support for U.S. efforts to stop the violence between Israel and the Palestinians and to restart peace talks.

Some U.S. officials, however, are not convinced Yemen is sincere. Earlier this month, when the Americans gave the Yemenis a list of suspected al Qaeda members they wanted seized, 14 had been notified and fled within 24 hours.

Others doubt whether Mr. Saleh, in power since 1978, has the strength to deliver on his promises in the corrupt country, where many oppose the U.S. policy in Israel.

Yemen where the paternal side of bin Laden’s family traces its origins has long been a terrorist haven and, before September 11, rarely cooperated with U.S. investigators. The FBI pulled its agents out of the country this past summer after Yemeni officials repeatedly blocked U.S. efforts to gain access to evidence and suspects concerning the Cole.

Some federal officials even said the Yemeni government was protecting members linked to bin Laden.

But that changed dramatically on September 11 when, one senior Bush official said yesterday, “Yemen realized it had to play ball.”

Since then, U.S. law-enforcement agencies have received access to government files and have focused their efforts on four men who helped finance, plan and carry out the attack on the Cole.

A Bush administration official said all four are members of al Qaeda.

The main suspect is a key operative named Abdurahim Husayn Mohammed Alnashiri, believed connected to the embassy bombings in Africa.

U.S. officials also are searching for a 27-year-old man from southern Yemen who was photographed by a surveillance camera in Malaysia early last year at a meeting with Khalid Almihdhar, who hijacked the plane that crashed into the Pentagon on September 11.

The Cole bombing has been blamed on bin Laden and his al Qaeda network, the chief suspects in the U.S. attacks. The guided-missile destroyer was refueling in Aden harbor Oct. 12, 2000, when two terrorists pulled alongside in a small boat and detonated several hundred pounds of explosives.

Alnashiri, the documents say, helped mastermind the attack.

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