- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 16, 2004

SAN’A, Yemen — Nine suspects in the 2000 bombing of the destroyer USS Cole have been arrested, the Yemeni government said yesterday, including eight who escaped from jail last year.

Interior Minister Rashad al-Eleimi said authorities were closing in on two suspects still at large since their April jailbreak in the southern port city of Aden. The breakout came as a major embarrassment to the Yemeni government. The bombing in Aden killed 17 U.S. sailors and has been blamed on Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network.

Separately, Yemeni security officials said seven terror suspects were arrested in the past two days in the provinces of Aden and Abyan in the country’s south. They did not provide their names.

But the ruling Congress Party’s Web site reported that Ali Mohammed Omar Sharbagy, one of two arrested in Abyan, was suspected of having connections to the attack on the U.S. destroyer.

Sharbagy is not among the 10 who broke out of jail last year.

Yemeni authorities, meanwhile, beefed up security around foreign embassies and government buildings in the capital San’a.

A group affiliated with al Qaeda, the Brigade of Abu Hafs al-Masri, which took responsibility for last week’s bombings in Spain, has threatened that Yemen will be its next target. The group reportedly said Yemeni authorities should be punished for detaining militants.

Yemen has allied itself with the war on terrorism, allowing U.S. forces to train its military. The country, which has tolerated Muslim extremists, is the ancestral homeland of bin Laden.

Officials in the southern Abyan region, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the country’s most-wanted man, Jamal al-Badawi, is still at large. He was charged in the United States last year with helping carry out the Cole bombing.

Mr. al-Eleimi, the interior minister, said the capture of the eight escapees was the result of increased cooperation with Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia pledged yesterday to wipe out terror activity in the kingdom after a raid on the Arabian Peninsula that killed a suspected al Qaeda chief — a man believed to have once been a bodyguard for bin Laden.

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