Kuwaiti Gunmen Attack U.S. Forces
Oct. 09, 2002
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KUWAIT (AP) _ Two Kuwaiti gunmen in a pickup truck attacked U.S. forces during war games Tuesday on an island in the Persian Gulf, killing one Marine and wounding another before they were shot to death by U.S. troops. Kuwait called the assault a ``terrorist act.''
The Pentagon said the assailants pulled up to a group of Marines conducting urban assault training on Failaka, an uninhabited island off Kuwait's coast, and opened fire with small arms. They then drove to another site, stopped and attacked again before being killed by Marines, the Pentagon said.
Marines later found three AK-47s and ammunition inside the vehicle, according to a statement released in Washington by the Bahrain-based U.S. Fifth Fleet. It said the injured Marine was hit in the arm.
In a brief statement, the Kuwaiti Interior Ministry condemned the attack and identified the assailants as Anas al-Kandari, born in 1981, and Jassem al-Hajiri, born in 1976. It said both were Kuwaiti civilians.
U.S. intelligence has not determined if the attackers had any terrorist links, said an intelligence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
An Interior Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, described the two men as fundamentalist Muslims. More than 30 of their friends and relatives were detained for questioning, he said.
``The ministry announces that this is a terrorist act,'' the Interior Ministry said in a statement. ``It will not allow anyone to undermine the country's security.''
Pentagon spokesman Lt. Daniel Hetlage said the Marines returned to their ships shortly after the attack, but would resume exercises on the island Wednesday.
Failaka Island, about 10 miles east of Kuwait City, was abandoned by its inhabitants when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, and Iraqi forces heavily mined it during their occupation.
After a U.S.-led coalition liberated Kuwait in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the government compensated islanders for their property and resettled them on the mainland. The island has since been cleared of mines and many Kuwaitis fish there on weekends. Some former residents visit occasionally.
The shooting attack was unprecedented in Kuwait, a Washington ally since the Gulf War. More than a decade later, most Kuwaitis remain supportive of the close relationship.
Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said the two Marines were taken to the Armed Forces Hospital in Kuwait City, where one of them died of his wounds. Their names were withheld until relatives were contacted.
The military exercise, dubbed Eager Mace 2002, involves Kuwaitis at some stages. However, the Pentagon said the attack happened during an exercise that only involved U.S. forces.
The war games started Oct. 1, after the amphibious transport ships USS Denver and USS Mount Vernon arrived in Kuwaiti waters and began unloading 1,000 Marines and their equipment. The men and women are from the 11th Marine Expeditionary unit based in Camp Pendleton, Calif. The vessels' 900 sailors were also taking part in the maneuvers.
The U.S. military has carried out exercises in Kuwait since the Gulf War as part of a defense agreement the small oil-rich state signed with Washington. The Pentagon has said the current war games were routine and not related to any possible war to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Kuwait opposes any unilateral action against Iraq and fears retaliation with non-conventional weapons if the United States attacks Baghdad. However, it has said the United States could use its land for an attack if the war is sanctioned by the United Nations.
Muslim fundamentalists are politically strong in Kuwait. They want Saddam removed from power, but many believe President Bush's real motives for waging war would be to revive the foundering U.S. economy and to weaken Arabs out of support for Israel.
Two years ago, Kuwaiti authorities arrested three Kuwaitis they said plotted attacks on Camp Doha, an army base used by U.S. forces in Kuwait, and on the homes and cars of Western military personnel.
Scores of Kuwaitis have fought alongside Muslims in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Bosnia, but they have not attacked Americans in Kuwait _ even at the height of the U.S. war that toppled Afghanistan's Taliban regime. The Taliban harbored Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida organization, which is blamed for last year's Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.
When a Canadian man was shot and killed while walking in the street just after the war in Afghanistan started, it was thought to be in retaliation against foreigners. A Kuwaiti religious extremist was apprehended and later freed.
Eventually, a group of Filipinos, including the victim's wife, was arrested and tried for murdering the man for his life insurance. One Filipino was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
``I just hope it is not Islamists,'' former oil minister and lawmaker Ali al-Baghli said of Tuesday's attack.
Al-Baghli said he hopes the government will clamp down on extremists in the country.
However, an Islamic fundamentalist leader, Abdul-Razzak al-Shayeji, said authorities should deal with the shooting as an isolated incident and not hold all Islamist movements responsible for it.
``There are few jihad fighters (holy warriors) in Kuwait. The Islamic movement here is moderate,'' he said.
The U.S. Army prepositions weapons at Camp Doha, located along the Gulf coast about 12 miles west of Kuwait City. The U.S. Air Force uses two Kuwaiti bases to patrol the southern no-fly zone over Iraq, which was set up after the war to protect Iraqi Shiites who rose up against Saddam.
Editors: AP correspondent Pauline Jelinek contributed to this report from Washington.