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Pentagon Says Attack on U.S. Ship in Yemen a Terrorist Act

Aired October 12, 2000 - 2:04 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: No we're going to jump back over to the Pentagon where Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre has been closely following events. About the attack on the USS Cole, anything new there, Jamie?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, just that U.S. officials are absolutely convinced that this was a preplanned terrorist attack that was carefully planned and carefully orchestrated in order to try to take the maximum amount of U.S. lives.

The way it worked was the USS Cole, an Aegis-class destroyer, was on a routine refueling stop in Yemen, the port of Aden. Over the last six months or so U.S. ships have made several refueling stops there, part of the United States' strategy to try to engage the region.

Here we see the ship, which is one of the Navy's top-of-the-line destroyers, as it left home its home port in Norfolk this summer heading for the Mediterranean where it was part of the George Washington battle group. The ship, though, did pass through the Suez Canal down the Red Sea and was stopping for that refueling stop.

When it was in port, everything looked routine. It was being assisted by a local ship, as is usually the case, with its mooring lines. A small boat with two men on board helped it attach one of its mooring lines, took a second line, and at that point apparently once they had the small boat next to the U.S. warship, the two men on board stood at attention, and stood there as the ship exploded. Apparently it was packed with high explosives.

That blasted a 20- by 40-foot hole in the side of the hull, flooding the ship, killing four sailors immediately. Ten others, 10 or 12 others are still missing and presumed dead. And 35 other sailors from the ship are injured, some of them severely, some with burns. There was no fire on board the ship. That was flooding. But the blast did apparently inflict some serious damage.

So no claim of responsibility yet. In response, the United States has dispatched some additional ships to meet with the USS Cole in Aden in Yemen, and also is -- also will be sending all its ships of the Fifth Fleet out of sea and will as a precautionary measure as the U.S. forces are on a higher alert.

WATERS: Jamie, I don't know if you've heard, Senator John Warner just a while ago -- a former Secretary of the Navy -- do you have something to get to there?

MCINTYRE: No. No. Go ahead.

WATER: OK, he indicated that this rubber raft or whatever it was, the ship that -- or the craft that -- apparently contained the explosives, was not a renegade boat, those were Senator Warner's words, but part of the mooring party. Is any analysis at the Pentagon how some kind of craft that may have had explosives on board become part of the mooring party in Yemen?

MCINTYRE: Well, that's really the main question. But, yes the initial reports were that the ship had been rammed by some sort of high-speed rubber raft packed with explosives. That turned not to be the case. In fact, it was a more sophisticated, sneaky, if you will, attack and what appeared to be a routine procedure.

There was no way for the ship to suspect that this mooring craft that was assisting in the harbor, as is normally the case, was in fact laden with explosives and part of a terrorist attack.

So it was definitely a sneak attack. Now the question of how that came about, that will be the subject of an investigation. But it's because of that and the fact that the two people on board apparently knew what was going to happen and were willing to sacrifice their lives has led the U.S. to conclude that it was in fact a suicide terrorist attack.

WATERS: Now, the USS Cole -- many questions, I imagine, about why the USS Cole was a target. Was it a convenient target or is there something about the Aegis cruiser and the weapons system on board that would have made this a likely target?

MCINTYRE: Well, I think there's no way to answer that except to say that it was a visible symbol of American presence in the region. And it was apparently the target they felt they could get: a target of opportunity.

A question, of course, -- they don't -- the United States doesn't advertise these refueling stops, and the ship was only supposed to be in port four to six hours. However, there's no way to bring a ship into part into a commercial area to get refueled without a lot of people knowing about it. They need to make arrangements. They need to contact a company that's going to be doing the refueling.

So while they don't publicize it, it's not a secret either when the ships go through. So presumably it would have been possible for someone to find out when the ship was coming and to lay a plot to attack it.

WATERS: Now this explosion, apparently, was on the port side of the ship. We heard a retired U.S. Navy captain say earlier if the explosion had been more aft it would have destroyed some engineering compartments.

Is there something particularly... MCINTYRE: There's no evidence that these people were able to place the ship in some particularly effective spot. But it did a lot of damage where it hit. It was in the midship on the port side. It did affect the engineering compartment. There was flooding in the engine area. It did hit an area where there were sailors there, that's why there were some killed and more missing and others injured.

So there's no evidence that they had any special knowledge of where to put the explosive. But where they put it did a significant amount of damage and has claimed dozens of lives.

WATERS: And the missing sailors, do we know anything more about them?

MCINTYRE: Nothing except the fact that they're missing this long after the incident, which means that they're probably somewhere in the wreckage from the aftermath of the blast. It doesn't sound good.

There's always a possibility that somebody could survive something like this in, sort of, a miracle situation. But that's why I said, they're really presumed dead. The bodies have not been recovered; the next of kin have not been notified, so the Navy is not closing the door on that.

WATERS: All right, Jamie McIntyre, we'll check back. Jamie's at the Pentagon following developments from there.

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