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Yemen denies any of its officials were involved in USS Cole attack
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senior Yemeni officials denied Tuesday accusations that government officials from their nation aided in the attack on the USS Cole.
Published reports in the region said Yemeni government officials provided a car to the bombers in the October 12 attack that killed 17 U.S. sailors.
"There is not a drop of truth to these rumors; it is a lie," said a senior official in Yemen. "Whoever says that the government had anything to do with this is trying to destroy the good relationship between our countries," the official added, referring to Yemen's relationship with the United States.
Yemeni officials said they were surprised by reports that their government was not cooperating with U.S. investigators.
"The investigation has been going very well," said the senior official, who added the Yemeni government was pleased "we have discovered so much in such a short time."
He said that thoroughness on the part of the Yemenis conducting the investigation has been perceived as reluctance to cooperate.
"It is just that we are struggling to do a top-to-bottom investigation," this senior official said. "We really want to get to the bottom of this. And we want to pass the information along to the U.S. government."
'We expect pressure from the U.S.'
"Look, we expect pressure from the U.S. It is justified, given the situation," said another senior official. "But from our side, we are doing everything we can."
Both officials said the FBI has told the Yemeni government that the United States "is at ease" with the level of cooperation.
The Yemenis said the Cole investigation is moving faster than the investigations into the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.
"And we have shown more cooperation to the U.S. than some of its closest allies," said one official.
Officials said a memorandum of understanding between the two countries is "very close" to being signed, but the agreement is being held up over a Yemeni law, which prohibits people from other countries from interrogating Yemeni citizens. While foreign nationals can interview Yemenis, the questions must be posed through a Yemeni national.
"It is hard for us to violate our laws," said one senior Yemeni official, who added that his government is trying to find ways to allow U.S. investigators to take part in the questioning indirectly.
This senior official said another reason the agreement had not been completed was because the Americans and the Yemenis wanted to "spell it out clearly," rather than find discrepancies later on how the investigation should move forward.
"We don't feel any rush," he said. "We want to make sure what we have is something that will stay."
Nine people questioned, say sources
Earlier on Tuesday, Yemeni sources told CNN that officials have detained and questioned nine people in connection with the explosion that damaged the USS Cole.
According to the sources, four of those detained in Aden were traced through phone records. Five others, detained in Sayoun and Lahj, were described as "Yemeni officials" who may have had some contact with the bombers during March.
No arrests or formal charges were made, the sources said. Several have already been released.
A pair of suicide bombers detonated a bomb in a small boat alongside the U.S. warship in Aden harbor on October 12.
Seventeen sailors were killed and 39 injured. The heavily damaged ship is en route back to the United States aboard a heavy lift transport ship.
Since the bombing, U.S. officials have been pressuring Yemeni authorities to allow the United States to take part in the investigation.
Shortly after the attack, bomb-making materials were found in an apartment near the harbor. Authorities found what they believe to be a hideout used by the attackers and a car and trailer that they suspect were used to put a boat carrying the explosives into the water.
The bombers are believed to have used as much as 600 pounds of C-4, a plastic explosive, to build the bomb.
In an effort to put an end to speculation that the USS Cole may have a damaged keel that would require the billion-dollar-warship to be scrapped, the U.S. Navy on Tuesday released the information that the USS Cole has no keel.
Navy officials said the modern destroyer is built with a series of separate compartments that are joined together, and that there is no single beam that forms the spine of the ship.
Officials said the ship will be repaired by essentially removing the compartments in the center section, and replacing them.
The repairs are estimated to cost at least $150 million.
Happy homecoming for Cole sailors
The United States Navy
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