Correction to This Article
ยท A May 4 Page One article on the bombing of the USS Cole misspelled the name of John P. Clodfelter Jr., the father of a sailor killed in the attack.
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Probe of USS Cole Bombing Unravels

Diplomatic relations soured further in February, when the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa learned that Fahd al-Quso, another Cole conspirator, had been secretly freed nine months before. Like Badawi, Quso faces U.S. charges in the Cole case and has a $5 million bounty on his head.

'Something . . . Doesn't Smell Right'

U.S. officials have renewed their demands that Badawi and Quso be extradited so they can stand trial in New York. FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III flew to Sanaa last month to deliver the message personally to Yemen's president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. Yemen has refused, citing a constitutional ban on extraditing its citizens.

"Unfortunately, we now have a stalemate," said Foreign Minister Abubaker al-Qirbi.

Qirbi said the dispute was a politically sensitive one, with many Yemenis opposed to helping the Bush administration. He defended the tactic of allowing the Cole plotters to go free in exchange for help in tracking down other terrorist suspects. "This is a normal practice," he said. "Everybody makes deals with anybody who cooperates, not just in Yemen, but in the United States."

Yemen's interior minister, Rashad al-Alimi, said the deal-cutting was necessary because al-Qaeda has rebuilt its networks in Yemen and is targeting the government.

"Our battle with al-Qaeda is a long one," he said. "It isn't our battle only. Our tragedy -- and what makes things worse -- is that al-Qaeda is united. And our coalition is divided, even though we have a common enemy."

Some Yemenis have questioned whether their government has other motives. One senior Yemeni official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Badawi and other al-Qaeda members have a long relationship with Yemen's intelligence agencies and were recruited in the past to target political opponents.

Khaled al-Anesi, an attorney for some of the Cole defendants, said Yemen had rushed to convict them. But he said he is still mystified by the government's subsequent handling of the case.

"There's something that doesn't smell right," he said. "It was all very strange. After these people were convicted in unfair trials, all of a sudden it was announced that they had escaped. And then the government announced they had surrendered, but we still don't know how they escaped or if they had help."

Hamoud al-Hitar, a former Supreme Court justice, said the trials were fair. But he suggested that the government had turned lenient because the Cole defendants had participated in a "dialogue and reconciliation program" designed to de-radicalize al-Qaeda members.

Hitar, who oversees the program, claimed that 98 percent of graduates have remained nonviolent. Asked about two Cole suspects who escaped and went to Iraq to become suicide bombers, Hitar shrugged. "Iraq was not part of the dialogue program," he said.

A Lawsuit and a Rebuff

Relatives of the 17 sailors who died on the Cole said they are furious at Yemen for releasing the plotters. But they expressed equal disdain for their own government.

The families have fought for years to obtain information from the State, Defense and Justice departments about their inquiries into the attack. "We never really got anyplace," said Andrew C. Hall, an attorney for the relatives.

With few other options, family members filed a civil lawsuit in 2004 against the government of Sudan, alleging that it had provided support for al-Qaeda over the years and therefore was also liable for the Cole attack. Last July, a federal judge in Norfolk, Va., ruled in their favor and ordered Sudan to pay $7.96 million in damages. (Yemen could not be sued because, unlike Sudan, it is not listed as a state sponsor of terrorism by the State Department.)

John P. Clodtfelter Jr. of Mechanicsville, Va., whose son Kenneth died on the Cole, said the families have tried to meet with Bush to press for more action.

"I was just flat told that he wouldn't meet with us," Clodtfelter said. "Before him, President Clinton promised we'd go out and get these people, and of course we never did. I'm sorry, but it's just like the lives of American servicemen aren't that important."

Staff researcher Robert E. Thomason in Washington contributed to this report.

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