As Senate and Pentagon investigators start probes into security arrangements for the USS Cole before last Thursday’s bombing, FBI director Louis Freeh is in Yemen ensuring all possible steps are being taken to find the perpetrators.
The FBI is focusing on two buildings in its investigation: one, about 20 miles from where the Cole was berthed, where bomb-making equipment was found on Tuesday; another small house is about 12 miles from the Cole. At least four men were involved, two of whom were thought to be the suicide bombers who killed 17 sailors on the Cole and injured 39, he said.
But the FBI still doesn’t know what organization, if any, planned the attack, Freeh said.
Freeh also repeated several times that the FBI’s presence in Yemen is temporary and that the U.S. force is a “junior partner” to the Yemeni police. Wednesday, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi said the FBI was going to set up a permanent presence in Yemen, causing angry rumors throughout the Arab world that Yemen’s president, Ali Abdulla Saleh, denied Wednesday night.
“The investigation is being run by the Yemeni police and security authorities. We are there as a partner ... but we are the junior partner,” Freeh said.
Freeh met with Saleh and with sailors on the Cole, and will leave Yemen later today.
Bomb Factory Found
Yemen’s president expressed confidence in a television interview on Wednesday that investigators had found the place where the bomb that was used in the attack was assembled.
“We were able to discover the car that transported the boat, and the launcher that lowered the boat, and we found the workshop that made the engine and the house that the people who carried out the crime were living in,” Saleh told Qatar’s satellite television station al-Jazeera.
“The boat came from [the port of] Hodeidah, the engine came from Aden,” Saleh said. “The attack had been planned for a long time.”
The Yemeni leader also said a 12-year-old boy reported being paid by a man to watch his car after it pulled up to a beach near the port of Aden on Thursday, the day of the bombing.
The man then set off in a rubber boat that had been tied on the car. He never returned.
Investigators believe the explosives may have been shaped into the body of the boat.
Wider Focus for Probe
Navy teams are still trying to extract the last four bodies from the hole in the ship, which Freeh said was “a tangled mass of metal and wire.”
Recovery is a slow process, he said, and although investigators are focusing on getting the dead sailors out of the ship, they’re also trying to find explosive traces in the wreckage.
Meanwhile, Yemeni sources say investigators have widened their probe into the bombing to a remote Yemeni province known for its outlaw tribes, and to Saudi Arabia.
They say that a search of the house where the bomb-making equipment was found yielded documents that originated in the province, home to tribes that have been kidnapping foreigners for ransom.
The sources say another team of investigators is going to neighboring Saudi Arabia. But they didn’t say why.
Responsibility for Choosing Yemen Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni is taking full responsibility for choosing Yemen as a refueling spot.
“I pass that buck on to nobody,” Zinni testified before Senate Armed Services Committee today.
Zinni is the former commander-in-chief of U.S. Central Command and was involved in the decision to pick Yemen as a refueling spot. He says Aden was considered the best option available for refueling Navy ships in the volatile region.
“The threat conditions in Aden, the specific threat conditions, were actually better than we had elsewhere. It was not good certainly. There were threat conditions that existed, but certainly they were no worse than anywhere else,” Zinni testified.
The Senate Armed Services Committee has scheduled a top-secret hearing Friday, on issues related to the terrorist attack on the Navy destroyer.
Hearings on Security
The Pentagon plans to announce today that it is forming a security review panel to look at whether new measures are needed to protect U.S. military forces overseas. The panel looking at the Cole incident will be similar to the panel set up following the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia.
The probe will be led by Adm. Harold W. Gehman, who retired this summer as commander in chief of U.S. Joint Forces Command, and Gen. William Crouch, who retired in 1999 as Army deputy chief of staff, according to the Associated Press.
During the bombing at a U.S. barracks near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, on June 25, 1996, 19 U.S. servicemen were killed and 500 Americans and Saudis injured. A subsequent investigation concluded the troops had not been adequately protected, and commanders in the field were given extra direct responsibility for protecting their troops. The bombers were never found.
Warning for Americans
Wednesday, the U.S. State Department issued a new warning telling Americans to be cautious traveling in the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Peninsula and Turkey, saying “The U.S. Government has indications that individuals may be planning terrorist actions against United States citizens and interests.”
“The information we have, however, is nonspecific as to timing, type of attack or any exact location,” a State Department spokesman said at a briefing.
Intelligence sources tell ABCNEWS there has been a great deal of surveillance of several U.S. Army officers in Turkey, and there was a great deal of concern that the officers were being stalked.
Wednesday, the Navy asked a team of contractors to start urgently looking at what types of measures the Navy could use on its ships against potential small boat threats in crowded harbors in peacetime. Navy ships pull into local harbors around the world daily.
Navy leaders are consulting with the Coast Guard, which regularly deals with drug smugglers and illegal aliens in small boats. Some of the measures the Navy could consider is equipping ship decks with water cannon, sticky foam or rubber bullet type bombs.
ABCNEWS’ John McWethy and Barbara Starr in Washington, Morton Dean and Andrew Morse in Aden, ABCNEWS.com’s David Ruppe and The Associated Press contributed to this report.