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Archive for Saturday, October 14, 2000

America mourns loss

Investigators seek clues in deadly blast

October 14, 2000

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— With the crippled USS Cole listing slightly in the harbor, American investigators, Marines and soldiers swarmed into this deep-water port Friday, bringing sniffer dogs and sophisticated equipment to search for clues in the blast that killed 17 American sailors.

Wounded U.S. sailors and the bodies of some of the dead were flown to Germany en route home; the Navy said the ship would be repaired and stay in service.

A U.S. Air Force honor guard carries a sailor's coffin from a C-17
Air Force aircraft at the U.S. air base in Ramstein, Germany. The
United States says 17 sailors died and 33 were injured in the
explosion on the USS Cole while it was refueling Thursday in the
Yemeni port of Aden. Seven bodies have so far been recovered. The
blast tore a hole 30 feet high and 40 feet wide at the ship's
waterline. U.S. officials say suicide bombers blew up a small boat
next to the destroyer. The photos of 16 victims also are shown. A
picture of the 17th, Gary Swenchonis, was not available.

A U.S. Air Force honor guard carries a sailor's coffin from a C-17 Air Force aircraft at the U.S. air base in Ramstein, Germany. The United States says 17 sailors died and 33 were injured in the explosion on the USS Cole while it was refueling Thursday in the Yemeni port of Aden. Seven bodies have so far been recovered. The blast tore a hole 30 feet high and 40 feet wide at the ship's waterline. U.S. officials say suicide bombers blew up a small boat next to the destroyer. The photos of 16 victims also are shown. A picture of the 17th, Gary Swenchonis, was not available.

The Navy released the names of the 17 sailors on Friday. All but one were from the enlisted ranks, and two were women. Lt. Terrence Dudley, a U.S. Navy spokesman in Aden, said Navy chaplains had arrived to console survivors.

"I'm just numb. It hasn't sunk in yet," said Patty Wibberley, mother of Seaman Craig Wibberley, 19, killed in the explosion. His duties had included raising and lowering the destroyer's small anchor.

Western diplomats in Yemen said the explosion seemed to be the work of a well-organized group with good connections in the port of Aden who might have provided the bombers with logistical support.

The diplomats, insisting on anonymity, said the boat used by the bombers was similar to boats used by port authorities to guide vessels into port or help ships with refueling.

Bomb experts quickly determined Thursday's explosion "was a blast from the outside," Adm. Vernon Clark, the chief of naval operations, said in an interview with The Associated Press in Washington. His comments countered any suggestion weaponry aboard the ship might have been responsible.

U.S. officials say suicide bombers blew up a small boat next to the 8,600-ton destroyer, ripping a 40-by-40-foot hole at the water line.

If terrorism is proven, the toll would make it the worst such attack on the U.S. military since the bombing of an Air Force barracks in Saudi Arabia in 1996 that killed 19 miiltary personnel.

More than 200 miles away, in the capital, San'a, an explosion on Friday rocked the British Embassy. Windows shattered, but nobody was hurt. Britain's foreign secretary said a bomb may have been flung into embassy grounds. Authorities were investigating.





People interested in helping the families of victims and crew of the USS Cole bombing can mail donations to:Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society901 North Randolph St., Suite 1228Arlington, Va. 222203-1978Please indicate "For USS Cole" on the check memo.

Anti-Western sentiment has been running high in the Arab world, with protesters condemning the United States in particular during demonstrations against Israel's use of force in two weeks of deadly clashes in Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories.

"The world should not underestimate the anger of Palestinians at this moment," said Mohammed al-Sharq, a member of the small Palestinian community in Aden who, like many here, said he believed "outside forces" were responsible for the attack on the Cole.

Esam al Najjar, a Palestinian-Yemeni working for a cement company, said such attacks can never be condoned, "but you must put yourself in the place of the people who carried it out. You have to try to understand that for some people, this is the only way left to respond."

Yemen was one of the countries where members of the Palestine Liberation Organization settled after being forced from Lebanon. The Palestinian community has dwindled from several thousand in the 1980s to 200-300 today in Aden, a desert city known for its infestation of crows a bad omen to Arabs and blocky, Soviet-era architecture.

President Clinton dispatched investigators from the FBI, U.S. State Department and Pentagon to Yemen, and ordered a heightened state of alert for all U.S. military installations around the world. More than 100 FBI evidence and explosives experts were expected to arrive over the weekend.

The Cole investigation was taking place under tight security in this city of 800,000 squeezed between the sea and a range of jagged hills. Yemeni soldiers were posted outside the hotel where most U.S. investigators and their Marine guards were staying. Inside, the Marines carried automatic rifles and closely monitored anyone coming in.

The ship, a white cloth billowing over the gaping hole ripped into the hull by the blast, sat isolated in an inner area of the harbor. Yemeni speedboats patrolled the area bounded by the coast and a peninsula.

Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said Friday the ship is stable, some power has been restored and Navy divers found the keel in good shape.

Other large ships container ships and cargo vessels were moored elsewhere as business went on as usual in much of the rest of the large harbor. But the Cole drew attention, with dozens of people gathered along a stone seawall on the harbor to gaze at the mighty, stricken ship.

The Cole is a $1 billion guided missile destroyer home-ported at Norfolk, Va. It was heading with a crew of about 293 to the gulf to support the U.N. embargo against Iraq.

At the Ramstein Air Base in western Germany, a flight carrying the bodies of five of the dead arrived Friday.

Light rain fell as an Air Force honor guard silently transferred the caskets draped in U.S. flags from an Air Force jet into separate hearses. Flags at the base in western Germany flew at half staff, and sailors in dress blues stood on the tarmac during the ceremony.

A transport plane carrying 28 walking wounded arrived at Rhein-Main Air Base near Frankfurt early Saturday morning, spokeswoman Lt. Col. Felicia Tavares said. The injured were being taken by bus to Landstuhl, about 60 miles southwest, for evaluation and treatment.

A second plane carrying more seriously injured sailors evacuated to the east African country of Djibouti also was to fly to a U.S. military facility in Europe later Saturday morning, although the destination was uncertain, Tavares said.

There have been no claims of responsibility for the blast that have gained widespread credibility. One U.S. official said this reflected a trend among militant groups not to claim responsibility for attacks in order to elude intelligence gathering.

However, Omar Bakri Mohammed, a leader of Al-Muhajiroun, a London-based Arab militant group, said Friday he had received an international call claiming responsibility for the attack on the American ship. It was in the name of "Muhammad's Army," an extremist group previously known to be active only in Chechnya and Dagestan.

Bakri, who is known to have ties to terror suspect Osama bin Laden, said he was skeptical of the claim but some of his skepticism waned after Friday's bombing at the British Embassy because the group promised more attacks in its call Thursday. It warned that "strikes will continue until the Muslim land and Palestine are liberated," he said.

Meanwhile, a close associate of bin Laden urged Muslims worldwide to attack U.S. and Israeli targets to avenge the deaths of Palestinians killed in bloody and protracted clashes with Israel.

Ayman el Zawahri, who was found guilty in absentia of the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, faxed his call for "jihad," or holy war, to the Islamabad bureau of the Abu Dhabi channel of the United Arab Emirates Television, bureau chief Jamal Ismael said.

The U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the call was similar to others that have been made recently and would be evaluated.

Islamic extremists have been active in Yemen. However, Yemen's Prime Minister Abdul-Karim al-Iryani said in March that bin Laden, at one time had "colleagues" in Yemen but now "has no place in Yemen, no military camps."

The United States accuses bin Laden of organizing a network with followers across the Mideast, including Yemen, and says he masterminded the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa that killed 224 people.

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