Yemeni pair charged in USS Cole bombing
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A federal grand jury Thursday indicted two men with helping the al Qaeda terrorist group plan the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, a move U.S. officials said was designed to speed their capture.
Fahd Al-Quso and Jamal Mohammad Ahmad Ali Al-Badawi, both citizens of Yemen, were charged with 50 counts of terrorism offenses, including murder of U.S. nationals and murder of U.S. military personnel.
If they are caught and convicted, both men could face the death penalty.
Both men remain at large after escaping with eight others from prison last month in Yemen where they had been held on suspicion of involvement in the Cole bombing, which killed 17 U.S. sailors.
"The indictment alleges that it was (Osama) bin Laden's pronouncements to kill Americans that motivated the defendants to conduct these terror operations," U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said Thursday.
Those who investigated the case were "distressed" when the men escaped from prison, FBI Director Robert Mueller said, joining Ashcroft as a news conference.
"With today's indictments, they are now international fugitives, a status that increases the probability of their speedy capture. We will do what is necessary to locate them," Mueller said. "We will continue to work closely with our counterparts in Yemen, and we will bring these terrorists to justice."
The United States blames the al Qaeda terror network for the October 12, 2000, attack on the Cole, a guided-missile destroyer that was rammed by a dinghy packed with explosives during a refueling stop in Aden.
"It has been almost three years since the attack on the USS Cole, but we have not forgotten this nation's commitment to bring justice to all those who plot murder and orchestrate terror, no matter how long they run or how far they flee," Ashcroft said in a statement, according to The Associated Press.
The indictments, unsealed in U.S. District Court in New York, describes Badawi as a key al Qaeda operative in Aden, Yemen, who was recruited by members of bin Laden's inner circle. Prosecutors allege Badawi helped procure safe houses in Yemen and obtain the attack boat, trailer and truck used to tow the boat to the Aden harbor.
Al-Quso is alleged to also have facilitated the plot to ambush the Cole and to have prepared to film the attack from an apartment overlooking the harbor.
Sources described the two as long-time, low-level al Qaeda operatives.
Also named in the indictment as unindicted co-conspirators were several high-ranking al Qaeda leaders who have previously been charged with other terrorism crimes.
They include bin Laden, Saif al Adel and Mushin Musa Matawalli, described by Ashcroft as a key explosives expert for al Qaeda.
Others named were suspected key al Qaeda operatives Tawfiq Mohammed bin Attash and Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri, both of whom are believed to have helped plan the attack. Both men are now in U.S. custody in undisclosed locations undergoing interrogation.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, sent letters to Ashcroft and Secretary of State Colin Powell asking for more information about the investigation and indictments of those responsible for the attack on the USS Cole. On the Senate floor Tuesday, Feingold voiced concerns over the fight against terrorism, citing the lack of information about the Cole probe.
"Unfortunately, the information available to me about this matter comes from press reports and public statements rather than from the administration directly," Feingold said.
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