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Spanish Authorities Hold News Conference on Scud Missile Interception

Aired December 11, 2002 - 06:08   ET


COSTELLO: We're going to go to the news conference now to listen to the Spanish defense minister.

FREDERICO TRILLO, SPANISH DEFENSE MINISTER (through translator): ... that I'm going to explain now.

Units from Germany, France and occasionally units from Great Britain and the U.S. are also involved in Operating Enduring Freedom.

The events took place as follows: On the 5th of December, the intelligence services of the U.S. obtained information on the fact that there was a suspicious vessel, which they thought was illegally trading in arms, navigating near our waters. And they felt that it was going to navigate in waters under supervision of 150 task force.

So, on the 5th of December, our frigate identified the vessel. It is the Korean ship, So San. It is in the international coalition's database and is identified therein as a suspicious vessel. The aircraft, a Spanish aircraft, Petro Serbian (ph), also identified the vessel and contributed in this operation.

The Spanish ministry of defense and the army is very grateful to our air force for their help.

So, the Enduring Freedom coalition and a U.S. admiral asked the task force to help intercept this suspicious vessel and see what cargo it was carrying. The Spanish rear admiral, Moreno (ph), sent a Spanish frigate, Navarra, and another vessel, Patina (ph), to intercept this suspicious vessel. They also requested of the Spanish government that it approve any measures that they felt might be needed in order to intercept the vessel the following day, or rather, on the 7th of December. The government, through all parties involved in the Navy and the Army, approved any measures that might need to be taken, and interception then was carried out by the Spanish frigate, Novara. This operation was called "Socotora (ph)."

On the 9th of December, I -- on Monday at dawn, interception of the Korean ship, Sosun (ph), took place. It carried a Cambodian banner registered in Non Pen (ph), even though it was navigating without a banner. An investigation took place, the crew was questioned, as was the captain, and by radio the captain indicated that it was carrying cement. They did not allow the crew of the frigate to board and to see what the ship was indeed carrying. It accelerated and tried to speed off and would not allow crew members of the Spanish frigate or the accompanying vessel to board.

So we needed to use a helicopter in order to try and board the craft. We had to be very careful with the masts and the cables on the vessel. You could see where these are in this PowerPoint that I have beside me. So we had to be very aware of where the masts were and where the cable were. A special units force from the Navy was sent. They were, in fact, already aboard the Patina vessel. So we decided to use the "Fast-rope" approach, and we did this successfully. There were no injuries and there were no victims.

A second team also boarded following the first intervention. We looked at the cargo, which was cement, but underneath this cement we found a series of containers that contained arms or weapons. Here you can see the bags of cement and behind those, or beneath those, there were several containers that contained weapons. Yes, today, Tuesday, the 10th of December.

North American ships that reached the Korean ship. We have a technical team from the U.S., a part of the coalition then. A detailed inspection of the cargo is being carried out. And this has to be done very carefully indeed.

So in the containers there are sophisticated weapons, and included in the weapons that we have found are a series of scud missiles. There are other weapons that still need to be identified. And this will be done as soon as the very exhaustive investigation underway is concluded.

This morning, the ship and its cargo were then being inspected in a detailed fashion by the coalition troops. So this is how the operation was carried out in the framework of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Before I answer any questions you may have, could I sum up -- could a summary be made please. I will sum up in English.

TRILLO: ... on the (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Territorial ritual (ph) operations (UNINTELLIGIBLE). This hope that these operations, the Spanish rare obliga (ph) (UNINTELLIGIBLE) leads to 100 (ph) (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the rated coral base bonnet (ph) units but also by German, French and officially by Northern Marine (ph) (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

The incident...

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: As Spain's Defense Minister, Federico Trillo, repeats what he just said in English, and we do appreciate that for our American viewers, but we've got the gist of what he had to say.

Let's go back to Major General Don Shepperd to analyze what the Defense Minister just said.

Are you with me?


COSTELLO: OK. What -- did you find anything surprising in that?

SHEPPERD: No, this is a repeat of facts that we basically already know. It talked about the boarding itself and the fact that no one was injured in the boarding from either side.

This is, however, drama on the high seas and makes a really good story. Again, it's still got us scratching our head. It looks like more and more that perhaps the missiles were headed for the country of Yemen. Nothing illegal about selling them or them buying them, but a little bit puzzling. In this area having...

COSTELLO: Yes, and if it's legal to do that, General Shepperd, why were they hidden under cement and why was the ship's name erased off and painted over and why was it unregistered that ship?

SHEPPERD: Yes, all a puzzle. There's a lot of maritime law involved here. But the ships, the Spanish ships, the French ships, the German ships in this flotilla around here led by the Spanish ships are there to do exactly what they did, which is intercept suspect ships in this very, very tough neighborhood. The United States is looking to make sure that arms do not get in the hands of the wrong people and that al Qaeda that are fleeing are apprehended in this type of thing. So this is what goes on in this area all the time, but there are a lot of questions to be answered here on this one.

COSTELLO: Well when you -- when you say this...

SHEPPERD: A lot of maritime law involved.

COSTELLO: I'm sorry to keep interrupting you, but it's just so interesting and many points just keep coming up to me. In Yemen, it's been a very good friend to the United States in its fight against terror, but they're all -- are al Qaeda members hiding there possibly? Might those scud missiles have been going to them?

SHEPPERD: They could be. On the other hand, 12 scud missiles is no small ticket item. That's a lot of money. And for al Qaeda to get these and then get them offloaded, get them into an area, hide them and then use them later is kind of a stretch. They could use them against southern Saudi Arabia and perhaps some of the bases in Qatar, UAE and Oman. But again, it's more likely, I think, that these were headed for a -- for a state actor as opposed to the al Qaeda. That's what it's looking like now.

COSTELLO: So the U.S. military and intelligence officials are on board that ship right now. What specifically are they looking for?

SHEPPERD: I think it's not what they're looking for, they're making sure that the cargo is safe. That it's not booby-trapped. These missiles have liquid propellants, in most of the missiles, and so they want to make sure it's safe and not going to blow the ship up as they're taking it to a U.S. naval base -- Carol.

COSTELLO: OK, just to wrap things up, because you seem so puzzled by this as we all are, why is this find so very important?

SHEPPERD: Well it's very, very important because it's another piece in the relationship with North Korea. No surprise they're a -- they're a proliferator. But on the other hand, the ability to find them loading things, track them all the way across the seas and then intercept over here is a very important statement that the United States and its allies are on track to do that worldwide against al Qaeda or anyone that wants to -- that wants to harm the United States or its interests -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. General Shepperd, thanks. We're going to hear from you again at the bottom of the hour.



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