Shots fired from civilian vehicles at U.S. forces in Kuwait

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

KUWAIT -- U.S. military forces in Kuwait came under gunfire Monday for the second time in a week, this time without any casualties.

Shots were fired from two civilian vehicles on U.S. Army soldiers near a northern Kuwait training area, U.S. officials said. Nobody was injured and the soldiers did not return fire, according to a U.S. Embassy statement and a U.S. military spokesman at Camp Doha in Kuwait.

Within a few hours, Kuwaiti officials began privately suggesting the targets may have been pigeons, not American forces. Bird hunters start heading out this time of year as temperatures drop below 100 degrees.

The U.S. military official, however, said the troops involved had "no doubt" the shots were meant for them. He spoke on condition of anonymity.

The shooting came six days after two Kuwaiti assailants opened fire on Marines taking a break from war games on an island off Kuwait. One Marine was killed and another wounded before the assailants were shot dead. The following day, a U.S. Army soldier fired a shot at a civilian vehicle overtaking a military Humvee. U.S. officials said the civilian vehicle's occupant had pointed a gun.

President Bush said Monday the attacks in on U.S. troops in Kuwait, as well as a deadly bombing in Bali and the bombing of a French oil tanker in Yemen point to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network and the need for a global coalition to fight it.

"This is a reminder of how dangerous the world can be if these al-Qaida are free to roam," Bush said, adding the attacks raised concerns al-Qaida is on the move again and could strike the United States.

Kuwaiti Defense Minister Sheik Jaber Mubarak Al Sabah said it was too early to say if Monday's shooting was a terror attack.

But he said Kuwaitis and Americans are re-examining security measures near training areas because such incidents "affect not only the friendly military forces, but also Kuwait as a state." He did not say what new measures were being considered.

Despite the attacks, the U.S. military spokesman said troops remain comfortable in Kuwait and denied they've come to feel like targets.

Fifteen Kuwaitis, many of them cousins or nephews, have been arrested in last week's fatal attack.

Of them, Islamic Affairs and Justice Minister Ahmed Baqer said "five or 10" are affiliated with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network. The rest were involved in selling weapons, he said, but had no al-Qaida connections.

Interior Minister Sheik Mohammed Khaled Al Sabah has said there was no evidence the group took orders from al-Qaida and that only slain attacker Anas al-Kandari, 21, had pledged allegiance to bin Laden. The other assailant was al-Kandari's cousin, Jassem al-Hajiri, 26.

That shooting and the apparent bomb attack on a French oil tanker off Yemen this month have fueled speculation al-Qaida may be regrouping and seeking Western targets. The attacks have not been linked or acknowledged as coordinated al-Qaida efforts.

Baqer said al-Qaida may be regrouping, but its members cannot easily recruit others.

"They can't speak in public and add more people to their regime because this will expose them. What they can do is kill people because this is easy," he said in an interview conducted in English in his ministerial office.

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