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USS Cole plot began after embassy attacks, investigator says

sadee
Al-Khamri, identified as one of two suicide bombers who attacked the USS Cole  

Suicide bomber identified


In this story:

'Night of power'

Suspect's photo published

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Mohammed Omar Al-Harazi, a known associate of accused terrorist Osama bin Laden, first called conspirators in Yemen about attacking a U.S. warship immediately after the August 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa, a U.S. investigator close to the case told CNN.

U.S. and Yemeni authorities have also confirmed the identity of one of the two men suspected of being the suicide bombers in the October 12 attack on the USS Cole in Aden.

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U.S. officials told CNN the man's real name was Saeed Awad Al-Khamri. Yemeni officials said he was from the same Yemeni province as Bin Laden's family -- though bin Laden was raised in Saudi Arabia.

U.S. and Yemeni investigators have found evidence linking Bin Laden's Al Qaeda group to the Cole bombing in the harbor of Aden, Yemen, although they say they are not yet ready to accuse bin Laden of ordering the attack.

According to Yemeni authorities, Al-Harazi, who remains at large, was the operations leader of the Cole attack. He provided the money for the bombing and is a possible link to other militants outside the country involved in the attack, the Yemeni authorities said said..

U.S. and allied officials have told CNN that Al-Harazi -- who sometimes goes by the names Abdul Rahman Hussein Al-Nashari or Al-Nassir -- is a cousin of the suicide bomber who carried out the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. An indictment describes the alleged embassy bomber as "Azzam."

'Night of power'

Word of the closeness in time of the Nairobi attack and the planning of the USS Cole operation comes as the United States braces for more terrorism against its interest in the Middle East and Western Europe as the final days of the Muslim holy month Ramadan approach.

U.S. officials said the volume of information about fundamentalist Islamic terrorist threats to U.S.-related targets is "very high" and "approaching the level" of the Millennium period, when a number of alleged terrorist plots were uncovered. In particular, officials said they are concerned about the danger of terrorism in Turkey and Jordan.

Officials said Wednesday they are particularly concerned about December 23, which this year marks the Islamic "night of power," when the first verses of the Koran were revealed to the prophet Mohammed.

The last time the event was commemorated, on January 3, 2000, an unsuccessful attempt was made to bomb the Navy destroyer USS The Sullivans in Aden, Yemen. The attempt failed when the attack boat, loaded with explosives, sank in the harbor.

Ramadan ends about December 26.

Pentagon officials confirmed this week that security had been increased at U.S. military facilities in Naples and Gaeda, Italy, and that the aircraft carrier USS Truman had been ordered to cancel a port call in Naples and go to Greece instead.

Suspect's photo published

The second suspected bomber of the Cole has not been identified by name. Both suspects died in the blast, which killed 17 members of the Cole's crew and injured 39 others.

Al-Khamri used the false name Abdullah Ahmed Khaled Al-Mousawa to register the boat used in the bombing and to sign a 12-month lease on a house in Aden overlooking the harbor.

U.S. officials confirmed that a photograph published in the Yemen Observer newspaper and shown on CNN is Al-Khamri.

Yemeni officials said Al-Khamri was the bearded man -- wearing glasses at the time --who a 12-year-old boy told police had paid him some money to look after his vehicle before setting off in the bomb-laden skiff.

They said he was from the Yemeni province of Hadhramaut, a remote area adjacent to Saudi Arabia where the family of accused terrorist leader Osama bin Laden also has roots.

The second suicide bombing suspect has been described by witnesses in newspaper reports as a darker-skinned man with a goatee and a heavy Hadhramaut accent. U.S. officials say they are not sure yet of his identity.

CNN National Security Correspondent David Ensor, Military Affairs Producer Chris Plante and Terrorism Analyst Peter Bergen contributed to this story.



RELATED STORIES:
Port visit for U.S. warship diverted after terrorist threat
December 19, 2000
Cash offered, new strategy pushed in U.S. fight to foil terrorism
December 14, 2000
Attack on U.S. ship signals new wave of terror
October 12, 2000
Senate votes to allow compensation for terror victims, re-authorizes Violence Against Women Act
October 11, 2000
U.S. panel says more must be done to combat terrorism
June 5, 2000
CIA director cites strong links among terror groups
February 2, 2000

RELATED SITES:
U.S. State Department, Response to Terrorism
Counter-Terrorism - Terrorism and Security Information

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