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Yemen Certain French Tanker Was Deliberately Hit
Sun Oct 13, 9:18 AM ET

By Mohammed Sudam

SANAA (Reuters) - Yemen is convinced the blast which ripped through a French tanker off its coast was a deliberate attack, but the identity of the perpetrators is still unknown, sources close to the government-led probe said on Sunday.

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Slideshow Slideshow: Oil Tanker Explosion Probed

Yemen, trying to shed an image as a haven for Islamist militants, had initially said a fire set off the explosion on the Limburg which killed one of the 25-member crew. But on Thursday it conceded a terror attack was possible.

France, the Limburg's crew and its owners Euronav had said from the start that Sunday's blast probably occurred after a small boat rammed into the tanker's hull.

"Yemen is now convinced that it (explosion) was a pre-meditated act but the question remains of who did it," said one of the Yemeni sources.

The French-flagged Limburg was carrying 400,000 barrels of crude when the blast gouged a huge hole in its hull.

On Friday, French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said traces of TNT had been found inside the tanker, a day after U.S. and French experts found fiberglass debris from what could have been an attacker's boat.

On Sunday, divers and anti-terror experts continued to search for more evidence around the tanker, anchored in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Mukalla town, some 500 miles southeast of Sanaa.

A Western source told Reuters the oval-shaped hole in the body of the Limburg was eight meters wide and about 11 yards high, with more than half of it under water.

Experts said the blast bore many resemblances to the October 2000 bombing of the U.S. destroyer Cole in Aden harbor. In that attack, suicide bombers rammed a boat full of explosives into the Cole, killing 17 U.S. servicemen.

Washington blames Osama bin Laden (news - web sites)'s al Qaeda network for the Cole bombing and last month, the U.S. Navy (news - web sites) warned of possible al Qaeda attacks on oil tankers in the Red Sea and Gulf which carry almost one third of the world's crude production.

France has said it expects Yemen to find and punish those responsible if it turns out that the explosion was no accident.

Yemeni officials said police had arrested up to 20 people after the blast. The Arab country is the ancestral home of bin Laden, whom Washington also blames for last September 11 attacks on U.S. cities.


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