US investigators are looking into whether Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels were involved in the bombing of the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden, a press report said Sunday.
The Sunday Island said the US was investigating whether Sri Lanka's rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who are known for their signature suicide attacks, had a hand in the October 12 bombing.
The Island newspaper quoting diplomatic sources said Washington had not formally asked for Colombo's help but noted that the US military has been co-operating with Sri Lankan security forces in recent times.
"The US embassy in Colombo has a full fledged military attaché section which could be used for discussions with Sri Lankan officials, without drawing public attention to the operation," the Island said.
US diplomats in Colombo were not immediately available for comment.
Defense ministry spokesman Brigadier Sanath Karunaratne said they had not been approached officially in connection with the US investigation into the attack on the USS Cole.
However, military sources here said there had been an "exchange of notes" on an informal basis as the Sri Lankan navy has been on the receiving end of many Tiger suicide bombings.
On June 26, Tamil Tigers admitted deploying six suicide cadres to ram and sink a merchant vessel, the M. V. Mercs Uhana, off Sri Lanka's northern coast, killing seven crewmembers.
The Tigers have also sunk more than a dozen navy gun boats and fast attack craft by ramming them with boats packed with explosives and operated by suicide bombers known as Black Sea Tigers.
The Sunday Island newspaper said the planning that went into the October 12 bombing of USS Cole is "remarkably similar to the manner in which Black Tigers are trained to operate."
The newspaper said that although investigators believed that the attack on the USS Cole could be the work of a Middle Eastern terrorist group, the Tigers may have helped them "with planning the attack or training the suicide bombers."
Seventeen American sailors were killed while another 38 were wounded in the suicide bombing.
The Sunday Island said that Tamil Tigers had been "seething with anger" after the US President Bill Clinton in October 1997 designated them as a "foreign terrorist organization."
A week later, suspected Tamil Tigers drove a truck packed with explosives and bombed the twin-tower World Trade Center (WTC) building in the capital Colombo.
A total of 18 people died and 105 others, including 35 foreigners, were wounded in the attack on the WTC.
In Aden, a senior US government official said Saturday that investigations into the October 12 bombing of the USS Cole were "progressing objectively."
Asked whether the probe had taken the joint US-Yemeni team to the Hadramaut region 800 kilometers (500 miles) northeast of Aden, he said: "I do believe that the investigation is progressing objectively."
"There are reasonable avenues of investigation but no one is closing off whether this (attack) was wholly local. I am not even aware that the investigation has moved to Hadramaut," the official told reporters.
Hadramaut is the ancestral land of billionaire Saudi dissident Osama Bin Laden and home to many Yemenis who traveled to fight in the jihad (holy war) against the Russians in Afghanistan during the 1980s – COLOMBO (AFP)
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