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Kuwait says al Qaeda linked to attack on Marines

Marines conducting military exercises in Kuwait
Marines conducting military exercises in Kuwait

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KUWAIT CITY (CNN) -- The leader of the suspected terrorist cell involved in this week's deadly attack on U.S. Marines in Kuwait had connections with al Qaeda, according to Kuwaiti Interior Minister Sheikh Mohammad Al-Khalid Al-Sabah.

The minister said the investigation into Tuesday's attack uncovered plans to attack other sites, but he provided no details except to say tight security had already eliminated some of five sites under consideration.

Al-Sabah told reporters Saturday that authorities had arrested 15 people who were being "referred" to the Kuwaiti judicial system for prosecution. He did not say when court proceedings might take place, and said he could not reveal the evidence collected against them because of the impending proceedings.

"The case has been closed and referred to the public prosecutor," he said.

Al-Sabah identified Anas al-Khandari as the cell's ringleader and said he had "pledged allegiance" to Osama bin Laden. Al-Khandari, 21, was one of two gunmen who attacked Marines participating in a military exercise on Failaka Island, killing one and wounding another.

Al-Khandari and his accomplice were killed in the return fire.

The minister said the investigation had uncovered "no concrete information" that Tuesday's attack had been ordered by al Qaeda or bin Laden and that Kuwaiti authorities believed Al-Khandari was the group's only member with connections to al Qaeda.

Al-Sabah said the 15 men in custody had admitted to belonging to the cell and that all them were "local Kuwaitis." They also allegedly told authorities they were planning further attacks.

Earlier in the day, The Arab Times, and English-language Kuwait City daily, reported that al-Khandari and his cousin, Jassem al-Hajiri -- identified by the newspaper as the second attacker on Tuesday -- fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan prior to the September 11 terror attacks in the United States, and that government officials had a videotape in which al-Khandari called the attacks a "gift" for bin Laden.

Earlier this week, Pentagon sources told CNN they had received a warning from the Kuwaiti government that another attack, this one on a "multistory" target, could be in the works.

That warning was believed to be based on plans and diagrams allegedly found during the investigation.

"I can say there were full confessions," Al-Sabah said Saturday of the suspects now in custody. "We discovered that there were other plans against other American and foreign locations, and with the grace of God we managed to abort their plans."

Al-Sabah said the Kuwaiti investigation was hampered somewhat because U.S. forces waited several hours before notifying authorities of the incident.

"There was a lack of coordination and efficiency," he said. "I hope to get further information from a team of investigators, including agents from the FBI who are expected to arrive later tonight or tomorrow."

The role of the FBI agents, he said, did not include probing the terror cell investigation. Instead, the minister said, they would concentrate on the attack on the Marines itself.

-- CNN Correspondent Martin Savidge contributed to this report.

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