Nov. 4, 2002
(CBS) U.S. forces killed a top associate of Osama bin Laden in Yemen in a missile strike, expanding the war on terror with America's first overt attack on suspected al Qaeda operatives outside of Afghanistan.
|The top operative is named Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi but goes
by Abu Ali, and he played a major role in the suicide boat bombing of the
USS Cole which killed 17 Americans.
Al-Harethi was one of several al Qaeda members traveling by car in northwest Yemen when a Hellfire missile struck it Sunday, killing him and five others. A government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the attack was believed to have been conducted by a CIA aircraft, possibly a missile-carrying Predator drone.
The Yemeni news agency said "initial information" indicated that the dead included al-Harethi, who U.S. counterintelligence officials believe was al Qaeda's top operative in Yemen.
A tribesman who refused to be identified further said he saw al-Harethi's dismembered body in the car.
"I know him like I know myself," the tribesman said. "That was him."
As CBS News Correspondent David Martin reports, this would be perhaps the biggest success in the war against terrorism since the arrest of Ramzi bin-Alshihb, one of the planners of the Sept. 11 attacks, seven weeks ago in Pakistan.
Roadblocks were set up in this area, about 100 miles east of the capital San'a late Monday, and jet aircraft could be heard flying overhead. The type and nationality of the jets could not be determined.
Al-Harethi was a major target of American anti-terrorism efforts. He was an associate of bin Laden since the early 1990s in Sudan.
In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld would not say if the U.S. military had played any role in the explosion, saying reports were just coming in and he needed "to look at them and digest them and wait and see."
But noting al-Harethi's background, Rumsfeld told a Pentagon press conference "it would be a very good thing if he were out of business."
A Yemeni official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the blast occurred at dawn Monday. Tribesmen in the area, however, said the explosion was Sunday afternoon.
"I saw a helicopter hovering overhead and I heard an explosion," one tribesman said, refusing to give his name. "The car was on fire and the area around it was covered in smoke."
Large parts of the car's roof were blown away, and tribesmen said body parts had been thrown outside the vehicle. The remains were taken to a military hospital in San'a.
"Authorities have been monitoring this particular car for a while and we believe those men belonged to al Qaeda terror network," the official said.
According to Martin, for months the CIA has been operating its predator drone over Yemen and the Pentagon has kept 800 U.S. commandos standing by in Djibouti, just across the straits that separate Yemen from Africa, waiting for a chance to kill or capture Abu Ali and other al Qaeda operatives known to be in Yemen.
400 marines will soon be added to the forces in Djibouti as the Pentagon sets up a special task force for hunting al Qaeda throughout the horn of Africa.
Rumsfeld on Monday characterized Yemen's cooperation with the United States as "good," noting the two countries have been sharing information.
"We have some folks in that country that have been working with the government and helping them think through ways of doing things," the U.S. defense secretary said.
On Sunday, a helicopter carrying employees of the U.S. oil company Hunt Corp., based in Dallas, Texas, came under small-arms fire just after takeoff, forcing an emergency landing at San'a airport that slightly injured two people.
Authorities on Monday said two men were arrested in connection with the shooting, SABA reported.
A security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the two men were members of a radical Islamic group. He said authorities were looking for two other men believed to be involved in the shooting attack.
Yemen is the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden and remains a base for al Qaeda operations and a safe haven for terrorists who have fled Afghanistan. It is rapidly becoming a major theater of war.
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