US Probes Tamil Tiger Links to USS Cole Bombing

By Suryamurthy Ramachandran | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

New Delhi ( - The United States is probing the alleged involvement of Tamil Tiger rebels in the bombing of the USS Cole missile destroyer in the Yemeni port of Aden, Sri Lankan officials said on Sunday.

American investigators, however, have not ruled out the involvement of Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden in the bombing.

However, the ruling Taliban government in Afghanistan has rejected the alleged involvement of bin Laden in terrorist blast that ripped a 40-by-40 foot hole in the hull midsection of the ship, killing 17 and injuring 38 American sailors aboard.

"Yes, there have been discussions between US diplomats and military officials on the subject (the USS Cole bombing) with a certain amount of exchanging of notes," Sri Lanka's Defense ministry spokesman Sanath Karunaratne said in response to a press report which stated that the investigation was now involving Tamil Tigers as well.

Karunaratne, however, said there had been no formal request for a probe from the US.

He said that, so far, the investigation was focusing on a West Asian group being involved in the October 12 suicide bombing of the USS Cole.

Afghan Foreign Minister Maulvi Wakeel Ahmed Mutawakil said in Kandahar that the American and Yemeni officials' claims about bin Laden's involvement in the incident are illogical.

"There is nothing new in American accusations against Osama, and they have repeated what they have been saying for a long time," the Afghan Foreign Minister said.

bin Laden, a Saudi dissident, is suspected of played a leading role in the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, killing 224 people, including 12 Americans.

bin Laden is on the US State Department's list of most-wanted criminals, and the agency has issued a $5 million reward for his capture.

Washington accuses bin Laden of heading an international Islamic terrorist network that violently opposes US military presence in the Middle East.

Sri Lanka's Sunday Island newspaper said the US was investigating whether Sri Lanka's rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who are known for their suicide attacks, had a hand in the October 12 bombing.

"The US embassy in Colombo has a full-fledged military attache section, which could be used for discussions with Sri Lankan officials, without drawing public attention to the operation," the paper said.

On June 26, the Tamil Tigers admitted deploying six suicide cadres, known as the Black Sea Tigers, to ram and sink a merchant vessel, the MV Mercs Uhana, off Sri Lanka's northern coast, killing seven crew members.

The Tigers have also sunk more than a dozen naval craft by ramming them with boats packed with plastic explosives and operated by suicide bombers.

The newspaper said the planning that went into the October 12 bombing of the USS Cole is "remarkably similar to the manner in which the Black Tigers are trained to operate."

Although investigators do believe the attack on the USS Cole could be the work of a West Asia terrorist group, the Tigers may have helped them "with planning the attack or training the suicide bombers," it said.

The paper said the Tamil Tigers have been "seething with anger" after US President Bill Clinton designated them as a "foreign terrorist organization" along with more than 30 other groups in October 1997.

A week after that announcement, suspected rebels drove a truck packed with explosives and bombed the twin-tower World Trade Center building in the capital Colombo, killing 18 people and wounding 105, including 35 foreigners.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam are fighting for an independent homeland for minority Tamils who accuse the majority Sinhalese of widespread discrimination in education and jobs. The government denies the charge.

More than 60,000 people have been killed in the civil war since 1983.

During its long separatist struggle, the LTTE has been blamed for the assassinations of another Sri Lankan president, Ranasinghe Premadasa, in 1993, and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.