Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

CRISIS IN THE MIDEAST

Blast Rips U.S. Warship in Yemen

Israel Pounds Palestinians After Mob Kills 2 of Its Soldiers

6 sailors killed, 11 feared dead as small boat apparently carries out suicide attack.

October 13, 2000|PAUL RICHTER and DAVID KELLY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

CAIRO — An apparent bomb carried on a small boat blasted a huge hole in a U.S. Navy ship refueling in Yemen on Thursday, killing six sailors and leaving 11 others missing and feared dead.

In what appears to be the third major attack on U.S. personnel in the Mideast since 1996, two men apparently detonated explosives in the small vessel as they were helping to moor the guided-missile destroyer Cole at a refueling barge in the busy Arabian Peninsula port of Aden.

Witnesses saw the men they assumed to be port contract workers steer their boat against the port, or left, side of the 505-foot destroyer, then stand at attention as the apparent bomb exploded, Navy officials said.

The apparent attackers were believed to have been killed at 12:15 p.m. as the blast ripped a 20-by-40-foot hole in the half-inch-thick steel plate at the waterline near midships. Local hospitals were caring for 35 injured sailors.

President Clinton denounced the explosion as a "despicable and cowardly act" and vowed, "We will find out who was responsible and hold them accountable."

While U.S. officials had not declared for certain late Thursday that the blast was the work of terrorists, they left little doubt of their view.

"I have no reason to think this was anything other than a senseless act of terrorism," Adm. Vern Clark, the chief of naval operations, said at a Pentagon briefing.

This morning, a powerful explosion shattered windows at the British Embassy in Sana, the Yemeni capital, but there were no injuries, witnesses said.

Windows also were smashed at an adjoining school. The explosion apparently was in the embassy courtyard and shook the entire neighborhood, said Hisham al Qubati, a secretary at the nearby Yemen Times building.

Yemen, a poor country with a recent history of Marxism and internal strife, has a sizable Palestinian population and, reputedly, several terrorist cells. There have been large Palestinian demonstrations over current clashes between Israelis and Arabs in the Middle East, and anger at Israel and the U.S., its ally, has bubbled over.

But U.S. officials said they had no evidence so far that local unrest was connected to the bombing.

The United States has made several moves in the past three years to improve relations with Yemen. The Navy's 1999 decision to resume refueling stops in Aden was motivated in part by a desire to strengthen ties, officials said.

The explosion left the Cole, a $1-billion destroyer with a crew of more than 325 and a home port of Norfolk, Va., listing 5 degrees to the left. Seawater flowed freely into engine rooms hit hardest by the blast, Pentagon photos showed. But there was little danger of the vessel sinking after the crew sealed off bulkheads and interior doors and set up pumps, officials said.

The blast ripped into the ship in a section that contained the main engine room, an auxiliary engine space, mess areas and berthing space.

The Clinton administration dispatched investigators from the FBI and the Marine Corps Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team to Yemen to begin searching for evidence. Military authorities sent aircraft and ships to assist in medical emergencies and help evacuate the injured to hospitals abroad.

U.S. Troops in the Region on High Alert

Other U.S. ships and troops in the region were put on high alert, and Navy vessels in nearby ports were sent to sea for greater safety.

Protection of U.S. troops has been a top Pentagon priority, especially since a terrorist bomb crushed a U.S. Air Force barracks in Saudi Arabia in 1996 and twin explosions in 1998 ripped U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. But Navy officials insisted there was no way they could have anticipated or prevented a bombing from attackers who disguised themselves as friendly port workers to get close to the ship.

"It's difficult, if not impossible, to protect against this kind of threat," said Clark, who was formerly commander of the Navy's Atlantic Fleet.

The Navy arranges refueling stops in foreign ports such as Aden by going through government channels to find a local prime contractor, called a "husbanding agent." U.S. officials look into the agent company's background to see if it is reliable and solvent but don't give it a full security check, Navy officials said.

In this case, the U.S. Embassy in Sana was notified at least 10 days ago, perhaps longer, that the Cole would be arriving for refueling. The Navy said the ship's visit was known to a number of local U.S. officials, Yemeni government personnel and many employees of the local contractor. Navy ships have refueled in Aden three times since May under this contract without incident, officials said.

Refueling Steps Had Just Begun

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|