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Friday, 11 October, 2002, 17:44 GMT 18:44 UK
TNT found in stricken Yemen tanker
Limburg off Yemen
French and US investigators have been at the scene
French investigators have found traces of TNT explosives on the Limburg oil tanker, providing the strongest evidence yet that Sunday's explosion was due to a terrorist attack.

President Chirac of France has called on the Yemen authorities to find and punish the terrorists responsible for the blast, which killed one crew member and sent 90,000 barrels of oil pouring into the Gulf of Aden.

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"Mounting indications show that the hypothesis of a terrorist attack is very plausible," said Mr Chirac's spokeswoman Catherine Colonna.

"France will not let itself be intimidated," she said.

The French defence ministry is now heightening security for French citizens in the Middle East, and considering military escorts for French commercial vessels in the region.

Terrorist hunt

Earlier on Friday, French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie announced that "parts of a small boat and traces of TNT were found inside the tanker."

The findings backed up an earlier discovery of fragments from a small marine vessel on the deck of the Limburg.

Both discoveries are strong indications of a terrorist attack.

The Limburg is now thought to have been rammed by a small boat noticed by crew members shortly before the blast.

This style of attack resembles the suicide bombing of the US warship Cole in Yemen's Aden port in 2000, which killed 17 American sailors - an attack blamed on al-Qaeda militants.

So far, the investigators have not determined who was responsible for this week's attack.

Limburg hull
A hole was punctured in the side of the Limburg
The militant Yemeni Islamic group Aden-Abyan Islamic Army has claimed responsibility, but the US is sceptical of its claims.

The group sent a statement to the daily Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, saying a US frigate had been the original target.

It was quoted as saying the attack on the French tanker was "no problem because they are all infidels, and infidelity is one and the same."

But American officials maintain the attackers are more likely to be linked to Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda organisation.

Al-Qaeda background

Yemen initially tried to dismiss reports the blast was deliberate.

But on Thursday the government conceded it could have been an act of terrorism.

"It might have been an arranged and deliberate act, and a meticulously planned one, for that matter, " an unnamed Yemeni official told the Associated Press news agency.

In the past, Yemen has been a major recruiting ground for al-Qaeda.

But after the organisation was blamed for the attack on the USS Cole, the government has been co-operating with the Americans in cracking down on alleged terrorists.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Matt Prodger reports
"An unnamed American official said TNT was discovered at the site of the explosion"
International Chamber of Shipping's Brian Parkinson
"In international waters security is a different matter"
See also:

10 Oct 02 | Middle East
09 Oct 02 | Middle East
07 Oct 02 | Business
03 Aug 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
30 Oct 00 | Middle East
07 Mar 02 | Country profiles
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