Yemen Charges 6 In Cole Bombing

A Yemeni security court on Wednesday charged six Yemenis in the planning of the October, 2000 bombing of the USS Cole and said they belonged to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.

Seventeen American sailors were killed when two suicide bombers in an explosives-laden boat rammed the USS Cole as it refueled in the southern port city of Aden. The bombing was blamed on bin Laden's al Qaeda terror network.

Among the six charged in San'a Wednesday was accused mastermind Abdel Rahim al-Nasheri, said to be in U.S. custody, but it was unclear where. The other five were in court Wednesday.

Judge Najib al-Qaderi read a list of charges that included forming an armed gang to carry out criminal acts against the interests of the state; belonging to al Qaeda; resisting authorities and forging documents. The defendants present refused to plead and asked for lawyers. The judge scheduled a new hearing next week, saying lawyers should be appointed in the meantime.

U.S. diplomats attended the one-hour session.

Dozens of police officers and soldiers cordoned off the area immediately around the court's five-story building in central San'a while others patrolled nearby streets and watched from roofs of adjacent buildings.

It was the first hearing to be held in a trial of Cole suspects. The trial has been expected to start, then delayed, many times.

In March, Yemeni forces recaptured 10 militants suspected of involvement in the Cole bombing following their escape from prison last year.

Yemen had long tolerated Muslim extremists, but cracked down on such groups following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. It has allowed American forces to train Yemeni troops to combat terrorists.

Yemen, a conservative country at the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula, is Osama bin Laden's ancestral homeland and has long been a hotbed of militant activity.

In November, Yemeni security forces captured one of the top al Qaeda members in the country, a suspected mastermind of the bombings of the Cole and a French oil tanker off the country's coast. Mohammed Hamdi al-Ahdal was arrested after Yemeni forces surrounded his hide-out west of the capital.

In May of 2003, the U.S. Justice Department indicted two fugitives for alleged links to al Qaeda and roles in the deadly October 2000 attack.

The 50-count indictments charge Fahd Mohammed Ahmed Al-Quso and Jamal al-Badawi not only with a hand in the attack on the Cole, but also with an aborted attempt to bomb another American vessel, the USS The Sullivans, ten months earlier.