London (CNSNews.com) - Between three and six Yemenis suspected of involvement in the bombing of the USS Cole in the Gulf port of Aden last October are reportedly to stand trial in that country next month.
Several reports from Yemen in recent days have cited plans to bring various charges against the suspects, after the Muslim fast-month of Ramadan, which ends late this month. Charges are likely to include planning the bombing, and threatening national security.
A special agent with the State Department, contacted in Aden on Wednesday, declined to shed any light on the reports, referring queries to the U.S. Embassy. Nobody there, nor at the Yemeni Embassy in London, was available for comment.
One local publication quoted a Yemeni police official as saying two of the six were considered key figures in the plot, while the other four were civil servants who had aided their mission by providing false identification papers.
A wire service report quoted Prime Minister Abdel Karim al-Iryani as saying the suspects were "culprits in preparing for the attack on the Cole," although he could not specify charges that would be brought against them.
Seventeen American sailors died and 39 were hurt when two presumed suicide bombers detonated an explosive device in a small boat alongside the U.S. Navy destroyer, blowing a gaping hole in its hull. The crippled ship is currently en route to the U.S., piggybacking on a Norwegian heavy-lift vessel.
The suspects are believed to be Yemenis, some of whom have links with a network of militants who fought in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s. Investigators have not ruled out the possible involvement of the wanted Saudi-born businessman-turned-terrorist, Osama bin Laden.
Bin Laden, of Yemeni extract, is also a veteran of the Afghan war. He is wanted in the U.S. for allegedly masterminding the deadly bombings of two American embassies in East Africa in 1998, which cost more than 220 lives.
Iryani recently told an Arabic newspaper in London that bin Laden was believed to have been involved, even if indirectly, although proof had yet to be found.
Last week U.S. Ambassador Barbara Bodine and a senior Yemeni official signed a "memorandum of understanding" relating to the continuing investigation, after American investigators sent to Yemen to probe the attack reportedly were not given access to suspects being interviewed.
U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the agreement "meets the need of both sides in terms of being able to conduct their investigations in a manner that is consistent with their legal principles."
In late October, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced that a number of foreign and Yemeni suspects had been arrested, including "top leaders" from the Islamic Jihad organization from Yemen, Egypt, Algeria and elsewhere. At one stage a Somali woman was also being held.
Saleh said at the time at least one of the two dead suicide bombers was believed to have been an Egyptian national.
See Earlier Story: USS Cole Bombers Possibly Locals Helped By Outside Militants