USS Cole Bombing

The USS Cole is towed away from the port city of Aden, Yemen, into open sea on Oct. 29, 2000. Photo: DOD by Sgt. Don L. Maes, U.S. Marine Corps

Nearly one year before the attacks of 9/11, the U.S. Navy ship Cole, located off the coast of Yemen, was attacked by suicide bombers. The attack was later attributed to a cell within the al-Qaeda network; it had been supervised by Osama bin Laden. The Cole bombing alerted Americans of the reality of terrorism, though, even when the connection to al-Qaeda was established, the threat represented by the al-Qaeda network remained generally underestimated.

October 12, 2000
On Thursday, Oct. 12, 2000, while refueling at a port in Aden, Yemen, the U.S. Navy destroyer Cole was attacked by a two suicide bombers navigating a small motorboat full of explosives. The explosion occurred at 11:18 a.m. Bahrain time, killing 17 crew members and wounding 39 others.

Witnesses later said the boat, which sidled up along the ship’s port side, came so close prior to the explosion that sailors aboard the USS Cole exchanged greetings with the two suicide bombers, who stood at attention just before the explosives detonated. The explosion occurred as crewmembers had begun lining up for lunch in the galley, and blew a hole 40 feet wide in the side of the ship. The blast was likely caused, CIA officials believe, by a “shape charge;” explosives molded into the hull of the boat.

The ship, which was carrying a crew of 293, was en route to the Persian Gulf to help enforce an oil embargo against Iraq. Though the port in Aden had once been off-limits to U.S. ships as a safety measure, it had been reopened both because of, and to help further, improved U.S.-Yemen relations. The day of the bombing, U.S. President Bill Clinton said in a statement, “If, as it now appears, this was an act of terrorism, it was a despicable and cowardly act.” The attack represented the first major international terrorist attack on a U.S. facility since the 1998 bombings of the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the deadliest against a U.S. Naval vessel since the USS Stark came under Iraqi attack in 1987.