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Breaking News

Suicide Attack on USS Cole Kills 4 Sailors in Gulf of Aden

Aired October 12, 2000 - 8:08 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, and we have breaking news this morning out of Africa, where a U.S. Navy ship was the target of a terrorist attack, a small boat colliding with a U.S. Navy ship, four sailors killed, at least 30 injured.

CNN's chief Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre now has more on that story -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, the Pentagon is not confirming for sure that this is a terrorist attack but it sure looks that way at this point, based on the early reports.

The USS Cole, an aegis-class destroyer, was docked at the port of Aden in Yemen on a routine refueling stop, when sailors from the ship reported that a rubber boat, a Zodiac it's called, was approaching the destroyer from the rear. The boat collided with the rear of the destroyer and blew -- a resulting explosion blew about a 30 or 40 foot hole in the hull ship. That killed four sailors and injured dozens more. The Navy says the estimate of injuries is between 20 and 30 at this point. And it appears that this was, in fact, and I've terrorist attack, the most logical explanation for that kind of explosion would be a high explosive device on the rubber boat.

Now it is unclear at this time whether there was anybody on the piloting the rubber boat or whether it was simply aimed in the direction of the USS Cole, but again, in the port of Aden in Yemen, four U.S. sailors killed, dozens others injured, in what appears to have been a terrorist attack with a rubber craft, carrying a high explosive, striking the rear of this aegis-class destroyer - Carol.

LIN: Jamie, does it appear by the nature of this attack that it had to be premeditated, and therefore, these people knew what the ship's movements would be?

MCINTYRE: Well, it certainly appears that way. I mean, this was -- it is not a big secret in the Gulf, where U.S. ships go to refuel in that region, and there was a refueling stop there, and this was in the middle of the day. It is kind of hard to hide a large ship like a destroyer. So it would appear that this was something that was premeditated.

It certainly, at this point, there is no indication that this is any sort of accident or anything routine. If a rubber craft had collided with a destroyer there would not be any kind of explosion unless it was carrying some sort of explosive device. So at this point it does have all the ear marks of a terrorist attack.

LIN: And was the USS Cole on a particular mission?

MCINTYRE: I'm not aware that it was. The U.S. has standing naval forces in that area. It appears that this was just a routine deployment, it wasn't on any sort of specific mission that I'm aware of.

LIN: And do you have any more information on the status of the more than 30 injured?

MCINTYRE: We don't know the nature of the injuries. That's something that's being assessed now. We can assume that there are probably some serious injuries as well, if the explosion was big enough to cause a big hole in hull right at the water line, that's a pretty serious explosion and a pretty serious effect.

LIN: And I'm not sure if you mentioned this, but did you say whether there was anything on board that destroyer that might cause further damage, might potentially calls a second or third explosion.

MCINTYRE: I don't know. I wouldn't think so. This is not a for instance a nuclear-powered craft, this is a conventionally powered ship. It doesn't appear to have been anything to do with the re- fueling itself or near the fuel area, so at this point it doesn't like there's a threat of a secondary explosion.

LIN: And for any American families who are wondering whether their loved ones are on board, or whether they have been injured, how are people to find out?

MCINTYRE: Well, the Navy will be notifying next of kin as soon as they can. In this kind of a situation, they usually like to withhold details until they are able to talk to family members, but of course anybody who has seen an event like this, where it's a major new story, the name of the ship, the USS Cole is out, and of course anybody in the Navy who has family members on the USS Cole is going to be worried at this time until they get some kind of reassurance from the Navy directly.

LIN: Absolutely. Thank you very much, Jamie McIntyre, Pentagon correspondent. for the latest update on that. And will have more on the story at the half hour.

But right now to Leon.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, let's go now to our Kelly Wallace, who is standing by at the White House to see if we can get some reaction to any of these major breaking stories we have got happening now in the Mideast this morning -- Kelly.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Leon, the White House is obviously monitoring both of these breaking news events quite closely. National security officials here saying that they are in touch with the Pentagon over what Jamie is reporting, that explosion aboard that U.S. Navy ship, and the death right now of those four sailors.

Also the White House monitoring very closely events in the Middle East. We're told that President Clinton was made aware of those latest developments within the past hour by his national security adviser, Sandy Berger.

Mr. Clinton is up at his home in Chappaqua, New York. He is expected to return back to the White House this morning. One U.S. official saying he expects the president to remain engaged on these issues this morning and that high level phone calls are expected.

The White House saying that the events surrounding this incident in the Middle East are very serious. The White House saying it is very concerned about the situation.

One U.S. official saying, quote, "We want to engage as quickly as we can to learn what happened to make sure there is not an escalation."

Now. as Jerrold Kessel reported earlier during his newscast, there was to be a meeting -- a high-level meeting of U.S., Israeli and Palestinian security officials. A senior official telling us that CIA Director George Tenet is to be the U.S. representative at that meeting, that he is in fact in the region. But the White House is not aware of exactly when that meeting would take place him or if these current events will now put that meaning on hold.

Again, a very serious morning at the White House. Officials watching events in the Middle East and that explosion on that Navy ship quite closely -- Leon.

HARRIS: Well, Kelly, is there any plan at all for President Clinton to make any other statements publicly today?

WALLACE: Well, yes, and actually another big issue: Yugoslavia. The president is expected to make a statement later today at the White House announcing the lifting of the oil and travel embargo on Yugoslavia now that there is democratic change and President Kostunica is in office. That is on the schedule. The president expects to make that announcement sometime today. Obviously, if there are -- is anything else he can say that will be a time for him to comment on the developments in Middle East, and also the situation concerning that U.S. Navy ship -- Leon.

HARRIS: Do you know whether the U.S. is going to be changing his position on this, getting back to the Middle East situation, and the security -- high level security meeting that was supposed be taking place, is there any thinking at all there that the plan for that should change now, perhaps to give more time for things to cool down or what?

WALLACE: Well, don't really know that right now. Certainly U.S. officials telling us the president had been pushing for such a meeting. In fact, he talked with the U.N. secretary-general, Kofi Annan, about it Tuesday. President pushing for such a meeting.

The White House believing this would be a significant step in reopening the dialogue between both sides' security forces.

White House officials believing step one in the situation in the Middle East is to restore calm on the ground and that by having security officials talking at the same table, that would do that. After that, U.S. saying they would do things such as finding out what led the violence and making sure it doesn't happen again -- Leon.

LIN: All right, thanks much, Kelly Wallace at the White House -- Carol.

LIN: All right, back to our story about the U.S. Navy ship and the four sailors killed and more than 30 sailors injured.

Joining us by telephone now is Commander Daren Pelke. He is commander of the Fifth Fleet and he joins us by telephone from Bahrain.

Commander, can tell us what you know about what happened?

LT. COMMANDER DAREN PELKE, U.S. NAVY FIFTH FLEET: Yes, what I can tell you is that the USS Cole, the Norfolk-based, early Birk-class ship, had come through the Mediterranean Sea, down through the Red Sea, and had stopped for a routine refueling at Aden, Yemen, on the Southern Arabian Peninsula.

They were refueling when an eyewitness, a U.S. Army major, saw a rubber raft type of craft run into the side of the ship and cause an explosion. The approximately 20 foot by 40 foot hole in the side of the ship is what we are being told at this point in time. The flooding has been contained, and there is no fires reported.

As you said, we're hearing at this point in time, four people killed, 31 injured, one missing.

LIN: Do you consider this officially a terrorist attack?

PELKE: It's too early right now to have -- we don't have any details on exactly what happened other than that one eyewitness account. The ship was on its way up into the Arabian Gulf to support maritime interception operations.

LIN: Do you know how many sailors you have on board and how large that crew is?

PELKE: The ship has approximate 350 personnel -- that is what I have at this point in time.

LIN: OK, are they being evacuated or are they still on-board?

PELKE: No, they are contained the situation down there. The injured personnel are being taking too local hospitals.

LIN: Why do you think the USS Cole was targeted? PELKE: I don't have any speculation on that.

LIN: Do you have any intelligence as to whether U.S. interests had specifically faced any threats recently in the last few days or few months?

PELKE: No, we don't have any specific threats. No one took -- claimed any responsibility for the incident.

LIN: And this U.S. army major who witnessed this rubber craft coming towards the ship, did he say anything else? were they gesturing or trying to communicate in any other way?

PELKE: No, we don't have any information other than he saw the raft strike the side of the ship.

LIN: Do you have yet the identity of the four sailors who were killed?

PELKE: No, we don't have that information available at this time. We will try to work with the families out in Norfolk, Virginia to let them know what we have.

LIN: Commander Pelke, so where does the investigation now go from here? and who will actually be officially conducting this investigation?

PELKE: At this point in time, we are flying people down there from Bahrain. from the Fifth Fleet, to determine what we can about the incident and after that I don't know.

LIN: All right, thank you very much Commander Daren Pelke, commander of the Fifth Fleet, for joining us this morning from Bahrain.

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