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Column: Ex-FBI Agent Says U.S. Must Close Case on USS Cole

uss-cole-crest-234x300Ali H. Soufan was an F.B.I. special agent from 1997 to 2005.

By ALI H. SOUFAN
New York Times Op-Ed

TEN years ago, Qaeda terrorists blew a hole in the side of the Navy destroyer Cole in Yemen, killing 17 sailors. Yet the attack’s mastermind still hasn’t been prosecuted, and many of the men tried and imprisoned for the bombing are again free.

As Washington debates whether to increase aid to Yemen, it should first remember its duty to seek justice for those sailors — and to heed the broader national-security lessons from the attack.

As soon as the F.B.I. received news of the Oct. 12 bombing, I flew to Yemen with a team to investigate. The bodies of sailors draped in flags on a blood-stained deck, guarded by teary-eyed survivors, formed a heartbreaking image that motivated us during the following months.

Our investigation faced difficulties from the beginning. Yemen’s weak central government’s on-again, off-again relationship with extremists meant that Al Qaeda had influential sympathizers in positions of authority, as well as among powerful tribes in the country’s vast desert. As a consequence, we regularly faced death threats, smokescreens and bureaucratic obstructions.

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