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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

U.S. Announces Indictments of USS Cole Suspects

Aired May 15, 2003 - 11:07   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Lucia, I'm sorry, we have to interrupt you. We will get back to you and to this story.
Right now, we go to Washington D.C., FBI headquarters.

Here's Attorney General John Ashcroft.

JOHN ASHCROFT, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: ... terrorists piloted a small boat laden with high explosives alongside the USS Cole. They did so with the intent to ambush and kill as many Americans as possible.

The world remembers those first imagines of the USS Cole after that deadly blast. The Cole floating low in the water of Aden Harbor, Yemen, with a twisted black gash in the hull and smoke billowing forth from the wound.

Seventeen, 17 American sailors were killed that day, and more than 40 were wounded.

Almost three years have passed, but our nation has not forgotten the tragic image and circumstance, and we have not forgotten the victims or their families. We've not forgotten this nation's commitment to bring to justice those who plot murder and orchestrate terror, no matter how long they run or how far they flee.

This morning the Justice Department unsealed a 50-count indictment issued by a grand jury in the Southern District of New York. The indictment charges two defendants with crimes and terror offenses connected with their roles in the bombing of the USS Cole, as well as their previous attempt to bomb another U.S. Navy ship, the USS The Sullivans.

The two defendants are Jamal Ahmed Mohammed Ali al-Badawi (ph), a Yemeni national. Badawi is charged with being a key operative in Aden who was enlisted to participate in the attacks by members of Osama bin Laden's inner circle.

The indictment charges that Badawi helped to procure safe houses in Aden for the terrorists and obtained the attack boat and the truck and trailer used to tow the boat to Aden Harbor.

A second individual is Fahd Al-Quso, also a Yemeni national, who is charged with facilitating the plot to ambush the USS Cole. The indictment alleges that Quso prepared to film the attack on the USS Cole from an apartment on hills overlooking Aden Harbor. Both Badawi and Quso are alleged to be longtime al Qaeda terrorist associates who were trained in the al Qaeda terrorist camps in Afghanistan in the 1990s. As the indictment alleges, they were schooled in Osama bin Laden's hate and vowed to attack and kill Americans wherever and whenever they could, especially American nationals on the Arabian Peninsula.

The indictment alleges that it was bin Laden's pronouncements to kill Americans that motivated the defendants to conduct these terror operations.

The indictment also names as unindicted co-conspirators several high-ranking members of al Qaeda, some of whom have already been charged in other terrorism indictments, such as the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa.

Those unindicted co-conspirators include Osama bin Laden, who the indictment alleges planned the Cole attack and later praised the suicide bombers; Saef Al-Attal (ph), a member of al Qaeda's military committee who is alleged to have participated in the planning of the Cole attack; and Mushin Moussa Madawadi (ph), also known as Muhajer (ph), who is alleged to be al Qaeda's key explosives expert and to have helped test the explosives that were used in the attacks.

This indictment also names as unindicted co-conspirators Tafiq Mohammed Saled bin Rosheid bin Attash (ph), also known as Khalad (ph); and Abdul Rahim Mohammed Hussein Abda al-Nashiri (ph).

As the indictment alleges, both Khalad (ph) and Nashiri (ph) are veteran students and teachers in the al Qaeda terrorist camps in Afghanistan. The indictment alleges that besides training the defendants in Afghanistan, Khalad (ph) helped to enlist Badawi and also used Quso to transport thousands of dollars of al Qaeda funding from Yemen to Southeast Asia in January of 2000.

The indictment charges that the defendants, working in concert with their unindicted co-conspirators, engineered a plot in mid-1991 to conduct an attack on the U.S. Navy ships berthed at Aden Harbor for servicing and refueling.

As the indictment sets forth, at the direction of Khalad (ph) and Nashiri (ph), Badawi went to Saudi Arabia and purchased a boat large enough to carry a deadly cargo of explosives. Badawi also procured a truck and trailer to tow the boat and leased a safe house in Aden to hide the boat until the attack.

It is alleged in the indictment that on January the 3rd, 2000, while the U.S. The Sullivans was berthed for servicing in Aden Harbor, the co-conspirators loaded the boat with explosives and launched the boat from the beach. The indictment alleges that this attack, however, was aborted when the boat sank under the weight of the explosives.

Undeterred, the terrorists allegedly, according to the indictment, salvaged the explosives, regrouped, and refitted the boat over the next several months, strengthening the hull and adding fuel tanks. Their work was complete by the time the USS Cole came to port.

As the indictment sets forth, on the morning of October 12, 2000, the suicide bombers towed their attack boat to Aden Harbor while Quso traveled to the hills of Aden. The United States alleges in its indictment that from a vantage point above the harbor Quso hoped to video tape the attack to encourage other would-be terrorists to engage in similar attacks.

As American sailors went about their duties aboard the USS Cole, the suicide bombers approach amid ships offering friendly gestures until they were close enough to detonate the deadly blast.

The indictment charges that after the attack, Badawi and Quso fled north, but Yemeni authorities, working with the FBI and NCIS, found and arrested both defendants. Badawi and Quso were held in custody in Yemen until their escape last month. They remain at large.

Among the charges in the indictment are conspiracy to murder and the murder of U.S. nationals; conspiracy to murder, the murder and attempted murder of U.S. military personnel; conspiracy to use, the use and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, in this case a large high-explosive bomb; conspiracy to destroy, attempt to destroy and the destruction of U.S. property and U.S. defense facilities; using and carrying bombs and dangerous devices; and providing material support to the al Qaeda terrorist organization in connection with an attack on a U.S. naval vessel.

If convicted of these charges, the defendants are eligible for the death penalty.

After the tragedy of September 11, President Bush committed our nation to bringing justice to those who perpetrate acts of terror. He reminded us all that this is a difficult struggle of uncertain duration.

The president predicted, and I'm quoting, "There will be times of swift, dramatic action. There will be times of steady, quiet progress."

Well, today is one of those moments representing that steady quiet progress. It is a moment that shows our unrelenting commitment to defend the life and liberty of every American and to ensure justice for every citizen.

I want to commend the men and women of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for their role in this case. Director Robert Mueller has worked tirelessly to track down and disrupt the networks of al Qaeda. This nation is also grateful for the work of the Navy Criminal Investigative Service and the Department of Justice's criminal division.

I express, as well, my deep appreciation to U.S. Attorney Jim Comey of the Southern District of New York, and Deputy U.S. Attorney David Kelley (ph) and the Justice team in the Southern District of New York for their service and leadership. Their reputation for pursuing terrorist-related crimes is a well-deserved reputation of strong, professional performance.

This morning, I had the honor to meet with many of the friends and family members of the victims of the USS Cole bombing. For these loved ones, October 12th, 2000 is still a fresh wound on their hearts and it is a wound which will always be felt.

I believe that their coming to Washington is a good thing. It will help us do the best job of pursuing terrorists and of serving them in ways that they need to be served.

I want to thank those who came for their patient desire to see justice done. They will never forget and neither will I.

This indictment is a critical step toward justice for the victims, justice for their families, for peace for their families, and it is a critical step in promoting a safer future for every freedom- loving American, those in the military and those civilians.

I call on any call on any citizen with information about the location or actions of Badawi or Quso to come forward.

Any citizen of the United States, any person in the world community who loves freedom and understands that terrorists are a threat to people everywhere, I ask them to come forward. I ask them to provide us with any information they might have to help the cause of justice.

Thank you.

Bob?

ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: Good morning.

From the very first moments of the Cole tragedy, the FBI has been committed to bringing to justice those who were behind this attack. The FBI deployed nearly 200 agents and support personnel to Yemen for the arduous work of finding who was responsible. The FBI worked closely with officials from the Defense Department and shoulder-to- shoulder with Yemeni investigators, even conducting joint interviews.

A large amount of physical evidence was shipped back to the FBI laboratory for examination. And later, FBI personnel, including bomb technicians, photographers and agents from New York and the Jackson field offices, traveled to Mississippi, where the Cole had been brought, to examine the ship for additional evidence.

Some FBI investigators have spent more than two and a half years on the case. They have lived with that case for each day of those two and a half years, put in tens of thousands of hours, often in austere and challenging conditions, and frequently spent months at a time away from their families, all in pursuing this investigation.

I particularly would like to thank our New York field office for providing exceptional leadership in this investigation.

I want to thank the New York Police Department officers, many of whom are on our Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York and who worked with us in Yemen.

I want to thank the Navy divers who worked with FBI divers to recover evidence. And finally, I want to thank the United States Marines who provided protection for us when we were in Yemen.

Our technicians and our forensics experts played a significant role in this investigation. They gathered the critical evidence needed for a thorough investigation while maintaining the utmost respect for our lost sailors. This investigation simply could not have progressed without the help of the individuals from our laboratory.

And Director Louis Freeh played a significant role, a hands-on role, traveling to Yemen and meeting with President Salih to press the joint investigation into this case.

We should also at this time remember FBI Special Agent John O'Neill, who after he retired went to work at the World Trade Center in New York and tragically lost his life on September 11th. John O'Neill worked tirelessly on the Cole investigation, and the relationship we enjoy with Yemeni law enforcement today and its importance in the war on terror, which cannot be understated, is a direct result of John's efforts. We will always remember John O'Neill with gratitude.

Today's indictments are another step in a continuing investigation, and I say continuing investigation. It is another step toward closure for families of the 17 brave sailors, but I can assure you that it is not the last step.

I also met this morning with the families of those impacted by the Cole attack, and I know many of them are concerned about our focus on September 11th and the prevention of future attacks. And I want to assure them that the Cole investigation has been and will remain a top priority for the FBI.

Bringing to justice the perpetrators of the October 12, 2000 attack is a vital part of our counterterrorism mission and we will dedicate whatever resources are needed to get the job done.

All of us in the FBI, particularly those who have worked so hard on the investigation, are distressed by the escape of al-Badawi and al-Quso, and with today's indictments they are now international fugitives, a status that increases the probability of their speedy capture.

We will help do -- or we will do what is necessary to locate them. We will continue to work closely with our counterparts in Yemen. And we will bring these terrorists to justice.

You've been provided with the photographs of these terrorist fugitives, and we also ask for public assistance in locating them, not just to the United States, quite obviously, but around the world.

We approach each and every battle in the war on terrorism with full commitment. Along those lines, let me say in closing that the FBI will apply the full extent of our expertise and dedication to bring justice to the families of those who lost their lives in the Cole bombing, as well as bring closure to the families who may have been affected most recently in the tragic attacks in Riyadh.

We will continue to address terrorism day in and day out, with the expectation that we will be successful in bringing those responsible for the loss of American lives to justice.

Thank you.

KAGAN: We've been listening in to FBI director Robert Mueller, and also Attorney General John Ashcroft, as they announce two indictments, two Yemeni nationals who have been indicted in connection with the bombing of the USS Cole back in October of 2000. Seventeen U.S. sailors lost their lives in that attack.

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