Six U.S. sailors are dead, 36 injured and 11 missing after two terrorists on a suicide mission attacked a U.S. Navy destroyer today in the Middle Eastern port city of Aden.
The explosion that tore a hole in the side of the USS Cole during a refueling stop at a facility in Aden, Yemen, was the result of a well-planned terrorist attack, U.S. officials said.
The incident may be linked to alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden’s organization, U.S. officials have told ABCNEWS.
At the White House, President Clinton pledged action. “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,” Clinton told reporters.
“If their intention was to deter us from our mission of promoting peace and security in the Middle East, they will fail utterly,” he said.
Defense Secretary William Cohen said no one had claimed responsibility for the attack, but said he ordered an increased alert level for all U.S. forces around the world, including those in the United States.
The State Department today also warned that U.S. citizens should avoid travel to Yemen and urged all U.S. citizens abroad to “maintain a high level of vigilance.”
Small Boat Assisted Refueling
U.S. officials said the explosion occurred when a small boat assisting in the refueling of the USS Cole pulled alongside the destroyer, which was carrying about 350 crew members. The officials confirmed six sailors were dead and 11 others still missing.
Two individuals on board the small boat were helping to gather up the mooring lines of the Cole, officials said. The individuals took one line out to an anchor buoy and were coming back for a second line when the explosion tore a 20-foot by 40-foot gash in the mid-hull section at around 12:15 local time, or 5:15 a.m. ET.
The blast was strong enough to blow out windows hundreds of yards away. The damage was concentrated in one of the engine rooms and flooding has been controlled.
The refueling stop was only scheduled to last between four and six hours and was not well-publicized.
“A boat that was involved in mooring would not be expected to be a threat,” said Navy Adm. Vern Clark, chief of naval operations.
Looking for Suspects
Clark said the Cole had notified local authorities 10 to 12 days earlier that it would dock in Yemen.
“I have no reason to think that this was anything but a senseless act of terrorism,” Clark told reporters at a Pentagon briefing.
Although U.S. intelligence sources have no specific information bin Laden is responsible, they say he could be a suspect because his is one of the few groups capable of such an attack.
The perpetrators must have had knowledge of the few hours the ship would be in port and the ability to infiltrate the harbor at that time, the ability to assemble strong explosives on the small boat; and they also had to know what part of the ship to target.
Bin Laden is said to have strong ties to Yemen, as his father came from that country.
Intelligence sources tell ABCNEWS that six days ago, the United States received information that bin Laden signaled one of his hit squads to “move out,” but there were no details on where it was headed.