Possible al-Qaida link to shooting of soldier is investigated

KUWAIT -- The body of a U.S. Marine killed in an attack here was flown home Thursday as investigators questioned detainees and looked for possible links between the Kuwaiti attackers and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.

Three more Marines were injured Thursday in an explosion that appears to have been caused by a land mine. The Navy said their wounds were minor.

U.S. forces have held training exercises in Kuwait since the end of the 1991 Gulf War that liberated Kuwait from a seven-month Iraqi occupation.

In Tuesday's deadly attack on Marines engaged in urban assault training on Failaka island, the two attackers, Anas al-Kandari, 21 and his 26-year-old cousin, Jassem al-Hajiri, drove up in a pickup truck and opened fire on the Marines, killing one and wounding another.

The attackers, both Muslim extremists who trained in Afghanistan, then drove to a second location and fired again before being killed by Marines. U.S. and Kuwaiti officials were investigating if they had any al-Qaida links.

A U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said while there are indications the two men have ties to al-Qaida, authorities are still working to confirm whether they trained at bin Laden's camps.

Small-scale attacks

A defense official in Washington said several prisoners, as well as some other unspecified information, have led to Pentagon to believe that similar small-scale attacks were planned against other American interests in Kuwait.

Both officials said there is little evidence thus far to believe the men were acting on the orders of al-Qaida leaders.

The body of Lance Cpl. Antonio J. Sledd, 20, of Tampa, Fla., was flown out of Kuwait before sunrise Thursday. The injured Marine, Lance Cpl. George R. Simpson, 21, of Dayton, Ohio, was flown to Germany for treatment. Both men were with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit out of Camp Pendleton, Calif.

Kuwait's independent Al-Qabas daily reported Thursday that Kuwaiti authorities were concentrating on nine detainees, including two medical students linked to one of the attackers, al-Kandari.

Al-Qabas reported the two attackers had scouted the island, spending the night at a mosque there days before carrying out their attack. On the day of the attack, they rented a truck and shot at the Marines, it said.

The report could not be independently verified, though Kuwaiti officials have said people suspected of "providing assistance to the terrorists" were being rounded up.

Although the attackers were considered martyrs by their families and friends, leading Muslim fundamentalists have condemned the attack and labeled the youth "misguided." The Kuwaiti government was quick to denounce the attack as an act of terrorism.

Thursday's explosion in the training range of Udairi, 28 miles from the Iraqi border, probably was caused by a land mine, according to Pentagon officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Bahrain-based U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet did not identify the three injured Marines.

"It seems to be an accident and we are investigating," said fleet spokesman, Lt. Chris Davis.