Confessed al-Qaida member interrogated by Kuwaitis

Monday, November 18, 2002

KUWAIT CITY -- Authorities were interrogating a Kuwaiti man on Sunday who confessed to being a senior al-Qaida member, having links to the bombing of the USS Cole two years ago, and plotting to blow up a Yemeni hotel frequented by Americans.

A Kuwaiti Interior Ministry official identified the man as 21-year-old Mohsen al-Fadhli.

The official refused to provide any details about al-Fadhli, other than to confirm newspaper reports surrounding his arrest two weeks ago. Word emerged Saturday in Kuwaiti newspapers.

Al-Watan daily said the man had "direct links" to planning the Oct. 6 attack on the French oil tanker Limburg off the Yemeni coast, in which a Bulgarian crew member was killed and 90,000 barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf of Aden.

The newspaper said al-Fadhli told police the attacker, al-Qaida's Shihab al-Yemeni, filled his boat with explosives and went out to sea looking for a target. It was "pure coincidence" that he chose the Limburg.

Al-Fadhli also confessed he had ties to the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden, the report said without elaborating.

A U.S. Embassy official in Kuwait refused to comment on al-Fadhli's arrest.

Kuwait, a key U.S. ally, still is trying to overcome last month's killing of a U.S. Marine by two Kuwaiti Islamic militants. Kuwait owes its liberation from a seven-month Iraqi occupation to a U.S.-led coalition during the 1991 Gulf War.

Independent lawmaker Mussalam al-Barrak said an al-Qaida presence in Kuwait does not reflect any substantive "antagonism against the United States." Militant extremists are few and they "are not widely welcomed by Kuwaitis," he added.

Fundamentalist leaders condemned the U.S. Marine's killing on Failaka island as being against Islamic principals. Following official orders, many mosques told worshippers the killers were "misguided" zealots.

Like the Failaka attackers and many other Kuwaitis, al-Fadhli reportedly had fought in Afghanistan and Chechnya. Al-Qaida spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith was a Kuwaiti citizen until the government stripped him of his nationality a year ago after he appeared on TV next to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

Al-Fadhli told investigators he was planning to bomb a hotel in the Yemeni capital of San'a frequented by Americans, Al-Watan reported. It wasn't clear when the attack was to have been carried out.

The plot involved filling a black GMC Suburban with explosives and ramming it into the unidentified hotel, he reportedly told interrogators.

During interrogations, al-Fadhli identified the man who was to be the driver as Osama al-Yemeni, 25. Other al-Qaida members were going to shoot the building's guards, he reportedly told police.

The attack was foiled when Kuwaiti authorities informed U.S. officials of the plan, newspapers reported. It was not clear who provided the information to the dailies.

Yemeni officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they had no knowledge of a hotel bomb plot. They said Kuwaiti authorities have briefed them on the al-Fadhli investigation.

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