U.S. Indicts Two Yemeni Nationals, Al Qaeda Members in USS Cole Attack
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 15, 2003 Two Yemeni nationals were indicted on charges for plotting the attack on the naval destroyer USS Cole in the Gulf of Aden in Yemen in 2000, officials said today.
Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller unsealed a 50- count indictment, naming Jamal Mohammed Al-Badawi and Fahd Mohammed Ahmed Al- Quso for their roles in the Cole attack that killed 17 sailors and wounded more than 40 others. The two were also charged with a previous failed attempt to bomb another destroyer, the USS The Sullivans, in early 2000.
Today's indictment at FBI headquarters came after Ashcroft and Mueller met with family members of the USS Cole victims earlier in the day. "For these loved ones, Oct. 12, 2000, is still a fresh wound on their hearts," Ashcroft said. "And it is a wound that will always be felt.
Mueller said today's indictment is "another step toward closure for the families of the 17 brave sailors, but I can assure you that it is not the last step."
"I know many of them are concerned about our focus on Sept. 11 and the prevention of future attacks. I want to ensure them that the Cole investigation has been and will remain a top priority for the FBI," he said.
"Bringing to justice the perpetrators of the Oct. 12, 2000, attack is a vital part of our counterterrorism mission and we will dedicate whatever resources are needed to get the job done," he said.
The indictments, which Ashcroft said "marked another important step in our nation's ongoing war against terror," were issued by a grand jury in New York District Court.
The two men are charged with murder and conspiracy to murder U.S. nationals and U.S. military personnel; conspiracy to use and using weapons of mass destruction; damaging and destroying government properties and U.S. defense facilities; and providing material support to the al Qaeda terrorist organization.
Ashcroft said if convicted, the two men could face the death penalty.
The attorney general named Al-Badawi as a key operative in Aden who was enlisted to take part in the attack by members of Osama bin Laden's "inner circle." Al-Bawadi is alleged to have procured safe houses in Aden for terrorists. He also is charged with obtaining the attack boat, truck and trailer used to tow the boat to the Aden harbor, Ashcroft said.
Al-Quso is charged with facilitating the ambush plot on the USS Cole and is alleged to have prepared to film the attack from a hillside apartment.
The two men, whom Ashcroft said are "long-time al Qaeda terrorist associates," remain at large as international fugitives after escaping from a prison in Yemen in April.
He said the two men are believed to have trained in the al Qaeda terrorist camps in Afghanistan during the 1990s.
Ashcroft said the indictment charges that the two men were schooled in bin Laden's "hate and vowed to attack and kill Americans wherever and whenever they could," especially American nationals on the Arabian Peninsula, he said. The indictment also alleges it was bin Laden's pronouncement to kill Americans that motivated the defendants to conduct these terror operations, Ashcroft added.
The indictment alleges that Al-Badawi traveled to Saudi Arabi and purchased a boat large enough to carry a deadly cargo of explosives, and later a truck and trailer to tow the boat. He then leased a safe house in Aden to hide the boat until the attack.
The indictment further states that Al-Badawi planned to attack the The Sullivans on Jan. 3, 2000, while the ship was being serviced in Aden harbor. But his plan was aborted when the boat sank under the weight of its cargo of explosives, Ashcroft said. The explosives, however, were salvaged, refitted to another boat with a reinforced hull and were ready by the time the USS Cole entered the Yemeni port later that year, he added.
Also named as co-conspirators in the indictment were several high-ranking members of al Qaeda, including its leader, bin Laden, who is charged with planning the USS Cole attack.
Saif Al-Adel, a member of the group's military committee, is alleged to have participated in the planning of the attack. Muhsin Musa Matwalli Atwah, also named as a co-conspirator, is alleged to be a key explosives expert and to have helped test the explosive used in the Cole attack.
The co-conspirators, Ashcroft said, have been charged in other terrorism indictments, such as the bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa on Aug. 7, 1998. The simultaneous attacks on embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and injured more than 5,000.
Mueller said the international fugitive status of Al-Badawi and Al-Quso will aid in the probability of their recapture. "We will do what is necessary to locate them and work closely with our counterparts in Yemen and we will bring these terrorists to justice."
Today's indictments culminate a two-and-a-half-year investigation into the attack.
Mueller said a team or more than 200 agents and support personnel from the FBI led the investigation. They were joined by the Naval Criminal Investigation Service, the New York Police Department, officers from the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, and a number of Yemeni authorities.
Ashcroft said the indictments represent a moment of "steady, quiet progress" in the U.S. war on terrorism. "It is a moment," he said, "that shows our unrelenting commitment to defend the life and liberty of every American and to ensure justice for every citizen."
He asked that anyone in the world community with information on the al Qaeda fugitives come forward to help the cause of justice.