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Three Marines Injured In Kuwait Accident

.S. Marine Lance Corporal Tony Sledd, shown in this undated family handout photo, was killed by two gunmen on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2002
AP
The body of a U.S. Marine killed in an attack that injured another Marine in a Gulf state was flown home Thursday as investigators questioned detainees and looked for possible links between the two Kuwaiti attackers and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.

Three more Marines also were injured Thursday in an explosion that appears to be accidental. Their wounds were not life-threatening.

U.S. forces have been training in Kuwait since the end of the 1991 Gulf War that liberated Kuwait from a seven-month Iraqi occupation. The oil-rich state with a tiny military that was devastated during the crisis signed a defense agreement with Washington after the war. The pact calls for propositioning U.S. weapons and yearlong war games.

Tuesday's deadly attack on Marines engaged in urban assault training on Failaka island was the first of its kind in Kuwait, which is a major U.S. ally. 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. Failaka is 10 miles east of Kuwait City. U.S. and Kuwaiti officials were investigating whether they had any al Qaeda links.

The body of Lance Cpl. Antonio J. Sledd, 20, of Tampa, Florida, 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, California.

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 three Marines who were injured were not identified, but their wounds were minor, according to the Bahrain-based U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

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

Two U.S. officials in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Kuwaiti authorities had detained four people as suspected conspirators in the Failaka attack. Interior Ministry officials did not return repeated calls for comment.

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.

Quoting a "senior security source," it said the medical students, who are brothers, had plans and documents that indicated they were preparing to attack an unidentified "large multistory" target.

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 the 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.

Al-Qabas also reported that most of the 50 Marines were relaxing on the beach or playing baseball when the assailants opened fire.

Davis, the Bahrain-based U.S. military spokesman, said the Marines were "on a break in training when the attack occurred." He said 150 Marines were on the island, but would not comment on other details of the newspaper's report.

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.

In a front-page editorial, Al-Anba daily newspaper said those who resorted to violence and terrorism were "enemies" of Kuwait. "It has become the duty of all of us to confront them ... because of the dangers their reckless acts have brought to the country," the newspaper said.

Westernized liberal Kuwaitis, however, accuse the government of using the politically strong Muslim fundamentalists as an ally against them. They accuse the government of overlooking many of their activities in mosques, schools and camps that agitate youths against the West.

"The religious movement itself can no more control the zealous, charged youth," said Ahmed al-Baghdadi, political science teacher at Kuwait University. "One way or another they (the attackers) could be connected to bin Laden and his octopus organization."