In October 2000 the United States Navy warship USS Cole was on its way to the Gulf when it stopped for re-fuelling in the Yemeni port of Aden. The mission of the guided missile destroyer was to join the US-led maritime intercept operations in the Gulf in support of the United Nations sanctions then in force against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. As the vessel was being re-fuelled from a floating platform in the harbor several hundred meters offshore, two suicide bombers managed to get a small inflatable raft packed with high explosives right up against the Cole. That they were able to do so without arousing suspicion was probably because it was assumed they were helping to moor the ship to the platform. When the bombers detonated their charge it blew a gaping hole in the destroyer’s side. The force of the explosion was so strong that buildings around the harbor shook. The stricken vessel immediately started to list but did not sink; it was eventually towed out of Aden for repairs and then returned to service.
It was widely assumed in the aftermath of the bombing that al-Qaeda had been the perpetrators, although the terrorist organization did not claim responsibility and there has never been conclusive proof that Osama bin Laden, or any of his senior leaders, ordered the attack. The suicide bombers both came from Yemen. Six men were subsequently tried and convicted by a Yemeni court, including the alleged ringleader, a Saudi who was described as al-Qaeda’s operations chief in the Gulf. The ringleader was tried in absentia as he had previously been handed over to the USA; he remains in custody at the Guantanamo Bay detention center.
When: October 12 2000
Where: Aden, Yemen
Death toll: 17 US sailors were killed and over 40 injured. The two suicide bombers also died.
You should know: There was a widely held view at the time that the government of Sudan had aided and abetted the terrorists. A civil lawsuit launched by relatives of the victims resulted in a March 2007 ruling by a US federal court that Sudan was liable for the bombing attack. Around $13.4m of Sudanese assets frozen in the USA were awarded to the victims’ families in compensation.