Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
Indictment for the Bombing of the U.S.S. Cole
May 15, 2003
(Note: The Attorney General often deviates from prepared remarks.)
Today marks another important step in our nation's ongoing war against terror.
On October 12, 2000, terrorists piloted a small boat laden with high explosives alongside the U.S.S. Cole with the intent to ambush and kill as many Americans as possible.
The world remembers those first images of the U.S.S. Cole after that deadly blast: the Cole floating low in the water of Aden harbor, Yemen, with a twisted black gash in the hull and smoke billowing forth from the wound.
Seventeen American sailors were killed that day and more than 40 were wounded.
Almost three years have passed, but our nation has not forgotten that tragic image. We have not forgotten the victims or their families. We have not forgotten this nation's commitment to bring to justice all those who plot murder and orchestrate terror - no matter how long they run or how far they flee.
This morning, the Justice Department unsealed a 50-count indictment issued by a grand jury in the Southern District of New York. The indictment charges two defendants with crimes and terror offenses connected with their roles in the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole as well as their previous attempt to bomb another U.S. Navy ship, the U.S.S. The Sullivans.
The two defendants are:
- Jamal Ahmed Mohammed Ali Al-Badawi, a Yemeni national. Badawi is charged with being a key operative in Aden, who was enlisted to participate in the attacks by members of Osama Bin Laden's inner circle. The indictment charges that Badawi helped to procure safehouses in Aden for the terrorists, and obtained the attack boat and the truck and trailer used to tow the boat to Aden harbor.
- Fahd Al-Quso, also a Yemeni national, is charged with facilitating the plot to ambush the U.S.S. Cole. The indictment alleges Quso prepared to film the attack on the U.S.S. Cole from an apartment on the hills overlooking Aden harbor.
Both Badawi and Quso are alleged to be long-time al Qaeda associates who were trained in al Qaeda's terrorist camps in Afghanistan in the 1990's. As the indictment alleges, they were schooled in Osama Bin Laden's hate and vowed to attack and kill Americans wherever and whenever they can - especially American nationals on the Arabian Peninsula.
The indictment alleges that it was Bin Laden's pronouncements to kill Americans that motivated the defendants to conduct these terror operations.
The indictment also names as un-indicted co-conspirators several high-ranking members of al Qaeda, some of whom have already been charged in other terrorism indictments, such as the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa. Those un-indicted co-conspirators include:
- Osama Bin Laden, who the indictment alleges planned the Cole attack and later praised the suicide bombers;
- Saif al Adel, a member of al Qaeda's military committee, who is alleged to have participated in the planning of the Cole attack; and
- Mushin Musa Matawalli, also known as "Muhajer" [Moo-HA-zher], who is alleged to be al Qaeda's key explosives expert and to have helped test the explosives used in the attacks.
This indictment also names as un-indicted co-conspirators Tafiq Muhammed Saleh Bin Roshayd Bin Attash, also known as Khallad, and Abdul Rahim Mohammed Hussein Abda Al-Nasheri.
As the indictment alleges, both Khallad and Nasheri are veteran students and teachers in the al Qaeda terrorist camps in Afghanistan. The indictment alleges that besides training the defendants in Afghanistan, Khallad helped to enlist Badawi, and also used Quso to transport thousands of dollars of al Qaeda funding from Yemen to Southeast Asia in January 2000.
The indictment charges that the defendants, working in concert with their un-indicted co-conspirators, engineered a plot in mid-1999 to conduct an attack on U.S. Navy ships berthed at Aden harbor for servicing and refueling.
As the indictment sets forth, at the direction of Khallad and Nasheri, Badawi went to Saudi Arabia and purchased a boat large enough to carry a deadly cargo of explosives. Badawi also procured a truck and trailer to tow the boat and leased a safehouse in Aden to hide the boat until the attack.
It is alleged that on January 3, 2000, while the U.S.S. The Sullivans was berthed for servicing in Aden harbor, the co-conspirators loaded the boat with explosives and launched the boat from the beach. The indictment alleges that this attack was aborted, however, when their boat sank under the weight of the explosives. Undeterred, the terrorists allegedly salvaged the explosives, regrouped, and refitted the boat over the next several months, strengthening the hull and adding fuel tanks. Their work was complete by the time the U.S.S. Cole came to port.
As the indictment sets forth, on the morning of October 12, 2000, the suicide bombers towed their attack boat to Aden harbor, while Quso traveled to the hills of Aden. The United States alleges that from a vantage point above the harbor, Quso hoped to videotape the attack to encourage other would-be terrorists to engage in similar attacks. As American sailors went about their duties aboard the U.S.S. Cole, the suicide bombers approached amidships, offering friendly gestures until they were close enough to detonate the deadly blast.
The indictment charges that after the attack, Badawi and Quso fled north. But Yemeni authorities, working with the FBI and NCIS, found and arrested both defendants. Badawi and Quso were held in custody in Yemen until their escape last month. They remain at large.
Among the charges in the indictment are:
- conspiracy to murder and the murder of U.S. nationals;
- conspiracy to murder, the murder, and attempted murder of U.S. military personnel;
- conspiracy to use, the use and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, in this case a large high-explosive bomb;
- conspiracy to destroy, attempt to destroy and the destruction of U.S. property and U.S. defense facilities;
- using and carrying bombs and dangerous devices; and
- providing material support to the al Qaeda terrorist organization in connection with an attack on a U.S. Navy vessel.
If convicted of these charges, the defendants are eligible for the death penalty.
After the tragedy of September 11th, President Bush committed our nation to bringing justice to those who perpetrate such acts of terror.
He reminded us all that, "This is a difficult struggle, of uncertain duration." The President also predicted, "There will be times of swift, dramatic action. There will be times of steady, quiet progress."
Today is one of those moments representing that steady, quiet progress. It is a moment that shows our unrelenting commitment to defend the life and liberty of every American and ensure justice for every citizen.
I commend the men and women of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for their role in this case. Director Robert Mueller has worked tirelessly to track down and to disrupt the networks of Al Qaeda. This nation is also grateful for the work of the Navy Criminal Investigative Service and the Department of Justice's Criminal Division.
I also thank U.S. Attorney Jim Comey, Deputy U.S. Attorney David Kelley, and the Justice team in the Southern District of New York for their service and leadership.
This morning, I had the honor to meet many of the friends and family members of the victims of the U.S.S. Cole bombing. For these loved ones, October 12, 2000, is still a fresh wound on the heart that will always be felt. I thank you all for coming to Washington. I thank you for your patient desire to see justice done.
This indictment is a critical step toward justice for the victims, peace for their families, and a safer future for every freedom-loving American.
I call on any citizen with information about the location or actions of Badawi or Quso to come forward and to help the cause of Justice.