The U.S. Navy has dropped charges against two Muslim American sailors accused of plotting to sabotage an aircraft carrier during the Persian Gulf war, a U.S. Navy spokesman said Friday.

One of the sailors said the two would have never been charged if they had not been Muslim.The decision to drop charges was made after government and defense lawyers interviewed witnesses aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger, said Bob Coble, a Navy spokesman at Subic Bay naval base 50 miles west of Manila.

"The potential witnesses provided information that convinced the government lawyers that the evidence against the two was insufficient," Coble said.

Airman Apprentice Abdul H. Shaheed, 22, of St. George, S.C., and Seaman Apprentice James L. Moss, 21, of Columbus, Ohio, were ordered in March to face a court-martial after a Navy investigation found evidence they planned to sabotage the Ranger and kidnap its skipper.

They were assigned to the Ranger when it was deployed at the Persian Gulf in January but were flown to Subic pending trial.

Shaheed told reporters "the situation would not have occurred if I weren't a Muslim, but Muslims are peaceful-loving and they (authorities) didn't understand that."

Moss said "I am not violent and I don't support (Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein.

In a statement issued by Moss' defense attorney, Lt. Victor Bernson, Shaheed and Moss said they were elated over the decision.

"The bottom line is that the Navy has done the right thing," the statement said. "Shaheed and I both had faith in the system and the faith also has been vindicated today."

Bernson said the two were informed Thursday that the charges had been dropped. He said the prosecution's chief witness, Airman Apprentice Gregory Jones "had a credibility problem," but did not elaborate.

Moss and Shaheed had denied any sabotage plot and accused Jones of having fabricated the story.

Bernson said the majority of the witnesses that they interviewed "indicated that (Shaheed and Moss) were good sailors and peaceful Muslims."