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U.S. troops fire at armed civilians in Kuwait

marine
Kuwait's Defense Minister Sheikh Jaber al Mubarak al-Sabah visits the unidentified U.S. Marine who was wounded Tuesday.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- For the second time in two days Wednesday armed civilians confronted U.S. troops who responded with gunfire, according to military sources.

The civilians overtook a military Humvee outside Kuwait City and pointed a weapon at two service members, who then fired into the civilian vehicle, according to the sources.

The troops were not injured and returned to their base, sources said. The service members reported that after the gunfire they saw the civilian vehicle careening off the road.

Pentagon officials said they believe the al Qaeda terror network was connected to Tuesday's attack on a Kuwaiti island that left a U.S. Marine dead and another wounded.

The head of Kuwait's main mosque is under investigation for allegedly assisting the two armed assailants -- both believed to have been al Qaeda operatives, according to well-placed Kuwaiti sources. The men were killed by U.S. military police as they fled the scene,

The sources told CNN that Yasser al-Failakawi -- the imam of the Grand Mosque in Kuwait where politicians and royalty come to pray and that essentially serves as the state mosque -- might have helped the two gunmen gain access to the island where the attack occurred. (Full story)

Pentagon officials said they did not know if the leadership of al Qaeda ordered the attack or if it was the work of an independent al Qaeda cell.

But Kuwaiti security officials told CNN they believed the attack might have been the "first response" to taped messages from al Qaeda leaders that have come to light in recent days.

sledd
U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Tony Sledd is shown in this undated photo. Sledd was killed by two gunmen in Kuwait.

The latest taped message surfaced Tuesday purporting to be from Osama bin Laden's No. 2 man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, vowing new attacks on Americans. U.S. officials said the "operating presumption" is that the voice on the tape is al-Zawahiri's. (Full story)

After Tuesday's attack almost 200 people were taken into custody. Kuwaiti officials said as many as 30 of those -- whom they described as Kuwaiti fundamentalists -- had admitted going to Pakistan or Afghanistan for training.

The Pentagon said the two Kuwaiti assailants had been in Afghanistan where they trained in al Qaeda camps. The two were believed to have had relatives being held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

At the White House, press secretary Ari Fleischer said the Bush administration was concerned that al Qaeda was involved.

"We are in the process of gathering all the information that we can gather about this," said Fleischer. "It is a concern about whether or not there are connections between those who shot Marines and al Qaeda and we do not rule that out."

In Tuesday's attack, the two gunmen opened fire around midday on 150 Marines of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit who were conducting urban assault training on Failaka Island as part of an annual training exercise called "Eager Mace," U.S. officials said.

The Marines were participating in a non-live fire exercise, meaning they were not carrying ammunition for their weapons.

The Kuwaiti Ministry of Interior identified the assailants as Jassem Al Hajiri, 28, and Anas Al-Kandari, 21, both Kuwaitis.

kandari
An undated photo of Anas Al-Kandari, who was killed by military police after he shot at Marines in training.

The Department of Defense identified the Marine killed as Lance Cpl. Antonio J. Sledd, 20, of Hillsborough, Florida. The wounded Marine, who has not been identified, is expected to make a full recovery, military officials said.

About 1,000 Marines were involved in Eager Mace. All were withdrawn from the island to the Kuwaiti mainland for security reasons after the attack, officials said.

The Pentagon said it would resume using Failaka Island for training purposes, but will increase security.

The island is closed to most civilians, U.S. officials said, but there are civilians who work on the island and have permission to be there.



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