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Pentagon Says Terrorists Responsible for Attack on U.S. Cruiser in Yemen

Aired October 12, 2000 - 1:11 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: The explosion will be investigated by the FBI and a special anti-terror unit of the United States Marine. CNN Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre has been closely sifting through all the information through the Pentagon to all of us. Is there something new, yet? Anything definite on this explosion in Aden?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well. it's looking more definitely, Lou, like it was in fact a terrorist attack. In fact a suicide attack.

The details that we've been able to piece together from Pentagon officials who have access to some of the reports coming out of Yemen indicate that the incident happened when a small boat, a harbor tender, was assisting the USS Cole, the Aegis destroyer with its mooring lines. It took one of the lines and secured it was supposed to do, and then when it was time to take the second line, it took that and brought the small boat next to the large warship and at that point, and this is what indicates that this was a premeditated act, at that point, according to reports, the two men who were operating the small boat stood at attention while the boat exploded.

The high explosives ripped a giant hole in the side of the Aegis cruiser, a hole 20 by 40 feet, that created some significant and -- flooding of the ship. Four sailors were killed right away, that was confirmed, 10 others are missing. They're feared dead. Thirty-five others are injured.

At this point, the defense secretary William Cohen, who was scheduled to go out to California to give a talk to a business group out there, has canceled that trip. We're expecting to hear from him within an hour or so at the Pentagon.

Joint Chiefs Chairman General Hugh Shelton was down in Tampa, Florida today, the headquarters of the U.S. Central Command, which has responsibility for that part of the world. He was meeting with the Central commander Army General Tommy Franks. Shelton is on his way back to the Pentagon. He has also canceled his scheduled leave for tomorrow.

And just in case the Pentagon didn't have enough to worry about, Pentagon sources tell us that they have detected a movement or Iraqi troops: a division of Iraqi troops, the Hammurabi Division, which normally stays around Baghdad. These are Republican Guard units that are the most loyal to Saddam Hussein, has moved out and headed west. The assessment of U.S. analysts is that this is probably just a show of force to try to show some solidarity with the Arabs who are opposing Israel in the Middle East. There are no indications of any sort of logistical trail that would indicated that these troops were actually preparing for combat.

But nevertheless, a movement of Iraqi troops and tanks to the west is something of concern and the U.S. is watching it carefully. They do say, Pentagon officials tell us that these troops are not in any position to threaten the Kurds in the north. They have not gone into the northern part of Iraq, they're moving west from Baghdad. It may simply be a show of force.

Pentagon officials stress that it's impossible to figure out what's in the mind of Saddam Hussein. But all of these things are happening at the same time as the U.S. still has no indication who is responsible for this terrorist attack against the USS Cole, which as I said, has claimed at least four lives, a death toll that's likely to climb -- Lou.

WATERS: Jamie, a couple of questions. First of all, there was 350 U.S. naval personnel aboard this Aegis cruiser, the USS Cole. What's happening with them? What security is being provided for them?

MCINYRE: Well, mostly they are on the ship, providing security on the ship. In addition, some additional medical personnel were brought in and additional security personnel. Their job was to first, of course, make sure that medical attention was given to the injured crew members. They had to stop the flooding of the this ship. The ship listing, the last I heard, at about four degrees. They have to stabilize that situation. And there's no word at this point about evacuating in the ship port. But the ship is severely damaged. It's unlikely it will be leaving port there anytime soon.

WATERS: Can we assume that there's some technical and military support headed in that direction to help out?

MCINTYRE: Oh, absolutely. The U.S. Fifth Fleet has sent a couple of ships down there. Actually, they should arrive tomorrow because they have to -- they sort of have to go around into the Gulf of Aden and get to Yemen. They should arrive tomorrow. Already some relief has flown in and by the way, all the ships of the U.S. Fifth Fleet are on higher state of alert today because of this. They were all ordered to get underway, get to see, get out of port where they might be vulnerable just in case there was any kind of second attack in the planning. But that was a precautionary move only.

WATER: Does this high alert indicate protection is a higher level at other U.S. military installations?

MCINTYRE: The U.S. Forces in the Persian Gulf were already at a very high state of alert, but they're even at a higher state today because of this attack. And security is very tight in that part of the world, particularly for U.S. troops that are stationed both in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. And there's also a U.S. aircraft carrier battle group operating now in the Persian Gulf.

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