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France Not Ruling Out Terrorism in Yemen Tanker Explosion - 2002-10-07

French officials are not ruling out the possibility that a French oil tanker off the coast of Yemen might have been targeted in a terrorist attack. French investigators have arrived in Yemen to look into what caused Sunday's explosion on the Limburg.

In an interview on France's RTL radio station, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said it is unclear why the oil tanker exploded as it headed for the port of Mina al-Dabah in Yemen. Mr. de Villepin said the possibility of a terrorist attack could "not be excluded."

Mr. de Villepin said a team of French investigators now in Yemen would try to determine the exact cause of the blast. Twenty-four crew members were wounded in the blast, and one man was reported missing.

Yemeni officials say the explosion was caused by an accident on board the ship, but French diplomats in Yemen told news agencies they suspected a terrorist attack. So did the head of Euronav, the France-based company that owns the supertanker.

Euronav director Jacques Moizan told reporters his crew saw a high-speed vessel heading toward the ship. But Yemeni officials say the small boat was intended to guide the tanker to port.

The blast stirs memories of an attack two years ago on the United States navy destroyer Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden. A small boat laden with explosives rammed the Cole, killing 17 American sailors. U.S. officials have blamed Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network for the attack.

Like other countries, France has stepped up security domestically, and at its embassies and companies overseas, since the terrorist attacks last year in the United States. Nonetheless in May, a suicide attack on a bus in Karachi, Pakistan, killed nearly a dozen French naval workers.