Remote control may have set off Yemini tanker explosion

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

AL MUKALLA, Yemen --Yemeni authorities are investigating the possibility that an explosion on a French tanker here was set off by remote control, officials said.

Officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said they have ruled out a suicide mission similar to one that killed 17 U.S. sailors when the U.S.S. Cole was rammed with an explosives-laden fishing boat as it pulled into a Yemeni harbor two years ago.

France said Friday that traces of TNT and pieces of a small boat were found on the Limburg, the tanker where the explosion occurred on Oct. 6.

At least seven fishermen who were near the Limburg when the blast happened told investigators they saw a flash aboard the ship, but no boat speeding toward it, Yemeni officials have said. But the Limburg's captain says a crew member saw a boat approaching just before the blast.

Yemeni investigators say no human remains or belongings that could be linked to anyone who may have been aboard another vessel were found, raising the possibility of a remote control attack.

A Bulgarian member of the Limburg's 25-man crew was killed in the attack, a gaping hole was torn into the vessel and some 90,000 barrels of oil spilled onto the waters off Yemen.

The surviving crew members, 16 Bulgarians and eight French, were scheduled to leave Thursday and the ship, with a fresh crew, was expected to be towed to another port, possibly Dubai, for repairs.

The French and U.S. experts who have been investigating the cause of the explosion were expected to leave Yemen on Tuesday.

May have been al-Qaida

An intelligence official in Washington has said U.S. experts believed the suspected attack was the work of unspecified operatives with links to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network, which is thought to have been behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the attack on the Cole.

Yemeni officials close to the Limburg investigation maintain the blast was deliberate, thus ruling out a malfunction or an accident.

U.S. and French officials say signs in the investigation point to terrorism.

Since the attack on the Cole, Yemen has been trying to cast off it's image as a haven for Muslim militants by cooperating with the United States in it's war on terror and accepting Washington's help to vastly expand it's small coast guard. It has beefed up security on its air and sea ports and arrested hundreds of Muslim militants with alleged links to terrorists.

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