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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The USS Cole Bombing, October 12, 2000

Today in 2000, the USS Cole, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, was attacked in harbor at Aden, Yemen by two terrorists in a small boat loaded with explosives. The resulting blast left a 12 meter by 12 meter hole in the port side of the ship’s hull. 17 sailors were killed and 39 were injured. The ship immediately began to flood, but the determined efforts of the crew outpaced the seawater. By the evening of the attack, the damage was under control.

Two other US destroyers in the area raced to the scene; soon, five more Navy ships joined them. Once her damaged area was shored up, the Cole was transported to Pascagoula, MS onboard a Norwegian salvage ship. President Bill Clinton declared, “If, as it now appears, this was an act of terrorism, it was a despicable and cowardly act. We will find out who was responsible and hold them accountable".

The attack was stunning not only because of its swiftness but because the Cole was only supposed to be in port for four hours. This means that the terrorists had to have had inside knowledge of the ship’s schedule. The Navy investigation of the incident concluded that the captain of the ship reacted as best he could under the circumstances. The investigating board also recommended changes in refueling procedures when in foreign ports.

An FBI investigation of the attack in Yemen concluded that the bombing was the work of Al-Qaida. In November, 2002, one of the men implicated in the bombing was killed by an American Predator unmanned aircraft flying in Yemeni airspace. In September, 2004, a Yemeni judge sentenced two more men to death for their role in the attack. Four other men received jail sentences of five to ten years.

It is a little-known fact that the Cole was not the first warship target by Al-Qaida. That dubious honor goes to the USS The Sullivans, a destroyer of the same class as the Cole. In early 2000, a small boat was sent out to attack The Sullivans on station in the Persian Gulf. However, the boat was too heavily loaded with explosives and sank before the bombers could reach their target.

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