FBI: Plastic Explosive Used in Cole Bombing

ByMichael J. Sniffen

W A S H I N G T O N, Nov. 1, 2000 -- FBI laboratory tests have concluded that C-4, a military-style plastic explosive, was used in the attack on theUSS Cole in Yemen, a federal law enforcement official saidtoday.

And in another development in the investigation, U.S. and Yemeninegotiators were near an agreement that would let FBI agents inYemen observe interviews with suspects and witnesses and submitquestions, but they could not participate directly in questioning,said the official, who requested anonymity.

President Clinton,Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and FBI Director Louis Freehhad appealed to Yemen’s leaders to allow joint questioning.

Two former counterterrorism officials said the use of C-4 in theattack that killed 17 U.S. sailors suggested at least that anorganized group was behind the attack. One of them said it raisedthe possibility of state support but fell short of conclusivelyindicating some government sponsored the attack.

C-4 is a plastic explosive developed for the U.S. military inthe Vietnam era. “It lasts forever. It doesn’t deteriorate,” saidVince Cannistraro, a former CIA counterterrorism expert.

Used During Persian Gulf War

The explosive is made for military use in the United States andin at least several NATO nations. It is not available on the openmarket, like the fuel oil and fertilizer used to make the bomb thatdestroyed a federal building in Oklahoma City.

Although the C-4 formula is not a secret, one former U.S.military counterterrorism expert said, “C-4 is not used inindustrial blasting. It usually comes from a military source.”

“Organized criminal groups have stolen C-4,” this formermilitary official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Itrequires some amount of organization to do that. But it doesn’trequire government-level support to get it.”

Cannistraro said C-4 has been included in U.S. military sales toSaudi Arabia, Kuwait and even to Iran while the shah was still inpower. The U.S. military used it during the Persian Gulf war.

Renegade ex-CIA agent Edwin Wilson was convicted of shipping 21tons of it about two decades ago to Libya for use in what the U.S.government said was a school for terrorists he set up there.

“C-4 can be stolen, but it’s not easily obtainable by smallgroups,” Cannistraro said. He said he had been told that between400 and 700 pounds of the C-4 was used to blast a 40-by-40-foothole in the Cole’s armored hull.

Not Tied to Specific Groups“That possibly points in the direction of some state support,because that’s a lot to steal,” Cannistraro said. But he saidfurther evidence of that would depend in part on whether the FBIlab could use the residues left by the blast to determine the exactchemical formulation of the C-4 used in the blast and thus traceits manufacture to one particular country.

Cannistraro said the use of C-4 did not point to any particularterrorist group. Osama bin Laden, the millionaire Saudi exile whohas been charged by U.S. prosecutors with masterminding the bombingof U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, did not use C-4 there,Cannistraro said. “They used RDX detonators there, but not RDXexplosives.” RDX is a component of C-4 and other explosives.

Nevertheless, Secretary of Defense William Cohen said Monday,“We are looking very closely at Osama bin Laden to see whether ornot he in fact, or organizations he supports, are in some wayconnected” to the Cole attack.

Meantime, the crippled Cole has been lifted onto the deck of aspecialized transport ship, the Blue Marlin, which has beguncarrying the destroyer back to the United States, the Navy saidWednesday.

The Navy also said the remaining 217 members of the crew of theCole will return by plane to Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia onFriday. Most of them will go on leave and later return to theirCole detachment in Norfolk.

Some sailors from Norfolk volunteered to fly out to stay onboard the Cole as it journeys back to the United States, enablingthe entire Cole crew to come home, Pentagon officials saidWednesday. Some U.S. engineers and other technical experts alsowere on board to assess the damage.

For two weeks after the bombing, the Cole crew remained aboard,keeping the crippled ship stable in Aden harbor, recovering bodiesand preparing it for the journey back to the United States.

The Cole is not expected back until early December. It mostlikely will return to Norfolk, but the Navy said no final decisionhad been made.

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