Marine killed in Kuwait in suspected terrorist act

Two gunmen infiltrate military training exercise and fire on U.S. troops

October 09, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - One U.S. Marine was killed yesterday in Kuwait and another wounded after two gunmen infiltrated a military training exercise and attacked the troops in what Kuwaiti officials called a terrorist act.

The Marines were conducting urban assault training on Failaka Island, in the Persian Gulf off Kuwait City, when two Kuwaitis driving a pickup truck opened fire with AK-47 automatic rifles on a group of Marines whose weapons were not loaded with live ammunition, Pentagon officials said. The assailants were shot dead when they raced up the road and fired on a second cluster of troops, the officials said.

The brazen daytime attack stunned American and Kuwaiti officials, and immediately raised questions of how two assailants in civilian clothes obtained a truck on the tiny island, which is tightly controlled by the government, and then breached what should have been a secure training area. The 7-mile-by-4-mile, thumb-shaped island about 20 miles east of Kuwait City has been abandoned since Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.

"Kuwait condemns this attack by terrorists in the strongest terms," said Tareq al-Mezrem, a spokesman for the Kuwaiti Embassy here. "Kuwait and America should stand together to fight global terrorists."

The shootings were all the more surprising because they occurred in Kuwait, perhaps America's staunchest ally in the Persian Gulf region since the 1991 war. About 9,000 American troops are based in Kuwait, and American warplanes stationed there patrol the southern "no flight" zone over Iraq.

Kuwait's Interior Ministry identified the attackers as Anas al-Kandari, 21, and Jassem al-Hajri, 26. Kuwaiti officials said the men were Islamic militants with ties to al-Qaida, but U.S. officials said they could not confirm that yesterday.

Nor could American officials confirm published reports in Kuwait that the gunmen were cousins who had relatives being held at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Khalid al-Odah, the father of one of the 12 Kuwaitis held at Guantanamo, said he was not aware that any of the detainees were related to the gunmen.

Thirty-one civilians on Failaka were taken into custody as possible material witnesses in what the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet said was "an unprovoked attack." Kuwaiti and Pentagon officials could not immediately explain why the civilians were on the island.

Marines also recovered three AK-47 automatic rifles and ammunition in the truck the gunmen were using.

Al-Qaida and other terrorist groups have threatened to attack American targets in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere. The Marines struck in yesterday's attack were among 1,000 troops who began a month-long exercise last week that involves an amphibious assault landing and a variety of heavy weapons and warplanes.

Senior military officials have acknowledged that the troops could stay longer than a month if President Bush ordered military action against Iraq.

The attack happened about 11:30 a.m. Kuwaiti time when, according to one Pentagon official, the gunmen drove up to where the training was taking place, stepped out of their truck and opened fire at Marines who were taking a break from an urban combat exercise. The gunmen then jumped back in their truck and drove up the road to a command post, where they got out and began shooting at another group of Marines, the Pentagon official said.

One Marine was shot in the chin and stomach and died during surgery at a military hospital in Kuwait City, Pentagon officials said. A second Marine was wounded in the arm and was in stable condition after surgery, military officials said. Their names were withheld pending notification of their relatives.

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