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Cole Attack Suspect Killed in Yemen

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Cole attack suspect killed in Yemen

NBC, MSNBC AND NEWS SERVICES

SAN'A, Yemen, Nov. 4 — Six al-Qaida suspects were killed, including a top operative of Osama bin Laden, when their car exploded in northwest Yemen, the official Yemen news agency SABA said Monday. Tribesmen told news wires they saw a military helicopter hovering overhead shortly before the car exploded, suggesting it may have been attacked from the air.

U.S. OFFICIALS told NBC News that Ali Qaed Sinan al-Harthi, a senior al-Qaida member, was among the dead.

A Yemeni Interior Ministry source, cited by the local news agency, described al-Harthi as a key suspect in the attack on the USS Cole two years ago. U.S. officials said it was unclear whether he was directly involved in the attack, in which 17 seamen were killed.

However, as a senior al-Qaida member in Yemen, it is believed that he was involved in some way, but he is not believed to have organized and planned the attack, one official said.

The Interior Ministry source said traces of explosives, ammunition, weapons and communication systems were found in the vehicle, which was destroyed in the explosion.

MARIB PROVINCE

Another official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the blast happened at dawn Monday in the northern province of Marib, about 100 miles east of the capital, San’a. But tribesmen in the area said the blast happened Sunday afternoon.

“Authorities have been monitoring this particular car for a while, and we believe those men belonged to al-Qaida terror network,” the official said.

It was unclear how the blast happened. Officials first theorized the car blew up because the men were carrying explosives that may have been detonated accidentally.

But a tribesman said he saw a helicopter hovering overhead, “and I heard an explosion,” said the man, who refused to give his name. “The car was on fire, and the area around it was covered in smoke.”

The explosion took place in an area where al-Qaida is believed to be active.

COPTER ATTACKED

On Sunday, a helicopter carrying U.S. oil company employees came under small-arms fire just after takeoff, forcing an emergency landing at San’a airport that slightly injured two people. It wasn’t clear who was responsible.

In August, U.S.-trained Yemeni troops deployed in Marib, a tribal stronghold where authorities believe al-Qaida members or supporters are operating.

Beyond tribal disputes, Yemen long has tolerated Muslim extremists. It is also the ancestral homeland of bin Laden, accused of masterminding the Sept. 11 attacks and the October 2000 blast on the USS Cole while it was refueling in the southern port of Aden.

Last month, a blast caused by an explosive-laden boat crippled a French oil tanker off Yemen, killing a Bulgarian crew member and spilling 90,000 barrels of crude oil.

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