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Islamic hand behind death of 17 US sailors and UK embassy bomb in Yemen

ADEN, Yemen, Oct 19 (AFP) - Islamic extremists were behind the suicide bombing of a US destroyer which killed 17 sailors and a grenade attack at the British embassy, Yemen has admitted.

With the United States not ruling out the hand of wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh disclosed overnight that one of two of the suicide bombers was "bearded", the distinctive characteristic of Islamists in the region.

And he said a member of the hardline Islamic Jihad threw a grenade at the British mission in the capital Sanaa on Friday, a day after a huge explosion crippled the USS Cole in Aden bay.

"A Yemeni member of the (Islamic) Jihad was responsible for the attack on the British embassy in Sanaa and he has been arrested," he said.

The revelations came after Washington and London both insisted the attacks were terrorist in origin at a time of high tension in the Middle East when Israeli-Palestinians clashes were threatening to descend into all-out war.

"The two people responsible for the attack were killed in the explosion, and one of them had a beard and wore glasses," the president said in a interview. "He wore a beard," Saleh stressed.

"We have a photo of one of those responsible for the attack and according to his documents, he came from Hadramout (central Yemen) and was living in Lahj (southern Yemen)."

"We have recovered shreds of skin and bits of clothing belonging to the two people who made the attack, which are currently being analysed in laboratories," said Saleh.

"The powder used in the attack can only be found in the United States, in Israel and in two Arab countries, but I would rather not name them," he added.

A fibre glass boat had been used for the attack, he said.

"The boat came from Houdaidah (a port in western Yemen), the car that carried the boat belonged to a Yemeni who later sold it to a Somali and so far we have not been able to find it," he continued.

The explosion killed 17 and wounded 38 on board the guided missile destroyer which was preparing to take on fuel in the port. The bodies of eight sailors were flown home overnight, a US military official said Thursday.

The involvement of bin Laden is one of the possibilities that United States has under consideration, according to Greg Sullivan, deputy media director at the State Department.

"Given his methods of operation, the fact that he has targeted US facilities in the past, and has threatened to do so again, we can't rule him out," Sullivan said.

The authorities in Afghanistan, where bin Laden has found shelter, have ruled out any role by the Saudi dissident in the attacks in Yemen, from where his family originates.

The FBI's New York office, with experience in investigating terrorism including acts linked to bin Laden, is supervising the probe into bombing and has dispatched one its most experienced counter-terrorism investigators.

The same team has headed the investigation into bin Laden as the suspected mastermind behind the bombings of two US embassies in East Africa that killed more than 200 people.

Yemen's 26 November newspaper called Thursday for "joint internationl efforts to combat terrorism ... and to confront terrorists to bring them to justice."

The Arabian peninsula country has been rocked periodically by Islamist violence, including the kidnapping of foreigners.

Several hundred extremists are believed to be active in isolated, mountainous areas of Yemen, many of them veterans of the Afghan war, among whom bin Laden has a strong influence.

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