Terrorists Attack USS Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

When al-Qaeda operatives successfully carried out a well-orchestrated attack on a U.S. naval destroyer, the action increased the prestige of the terrorist organization and sent a message to the United States that its presence in the Middle East was unwelcome.

Summary of Event

On October 12, 2000, the USS Cole was traveling from the Red Sea to Bahrain when the destroyer stopped at the port of Aden, Yemen, for a routine refueling. Mooring began at 9:30 a.m., and refueling began about 10:30 a.m. At about 11:15 a.m., a small boat approached the ship. As it came closer, the two members on board made friendly gestures. A short time later, the small craft exploded, leaving a forty-by-forty-foot (twelve-by-twelve-meter) hole on the port (left) side of the ship. The explosion killed seventeen sailors on the Cole and injured thirty-nine others. The first naval ship on the scene was the British HMS Marlborough, whose officers administered medical assistance and damage control. U.S. Marines were flown in, to be followed by the USS Donald Cook and the USS Hawes. A few days later, others arrived to relieve Cole officers and provide security. The destroyer was hauled by a Norwegian transport vessel, the MV Blue Marlin, to Pascagoula, Mississippi, to undergo repairs. Terrorist acts Al-Qaeda[Al Qaeda];Cole attack Cole (ship) [kw]Terrorists Attack USS Cole (Oct. 12, 2000) [kw]Attack USS Cole, Terrorists (Oct. 12, 2000) [kw]USS Cole, Terrorists Attack (Oct. 12, 2000) [kw]Cole, Terrorists Attack USS (Oct. 12, 2000) Terrorist acts Al-Qaeda[Al Qaeda];Cole attack Cole (ship) [g]Middle East;Oct. 12, 2000: Terrorists Attack USS Cole[10800] [g]Yemen;Oct. 12, 2000: Terrorists Attack USS Cole[10800] [c]Terrorism, atrocities, and war crimes;Oct. 12, 2000: Terrorists Attack USS Cole[10800] Thawr, Ibrahim al- Misawa, Abdullah al- Nashiri, Abd al-Rahim al- Bedawi, Jamal al- Quso, Fahd Mohammed Ahmed al- Lippold, Kirk S.

Initially, the U.S. Navy said that the attacking boat had hidden its approach by joining a group of boats that were helping the Cole moor. However, the Navy later admitted that the Cole had been moored for at least a couple of hours by the time of the attack. There were also security issues. The ship’s captain, Commander Kirk S. Lippold, did not fully implement a security plan upon arrival at the port, which was classified as a low security risk, despite the fact that Yemen had been known to have problems with terrorism. Some measures should have been taken, including using hoses to keep small boats away from the vessel and having crews of armed officers make security checks around the vessel every fifteen minutes. The military’s rules of engagement prohibit officers from firing first.

The bombing was believed to have been carried out by two suicide bombers, Ibrahim al-Thawr and Abdullah al-Misawa, under the guidance of Osama Bin Laden Bin Laden, Osama and the terrorist organization al-Qaeda. Investigators from the Federal Bureau of Investigation Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), along with Yemeni authorities, discovered what had happened. Within one month, Yemeni authorities had arrested Jamal al-Bedawi and Fahd Mohammed Ahmed al-Quso, who had helped coordinate the attack, but did not allow the United States to participate in the interrogations.

Al-Bedawi was the oldest of six suspects arrested in Yemen. He told investigators that he had received instructions over the phone from a man from the United Arab Emirates. Later, the United States learned that Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Mohammed Omar al-Harazi were involved; through them there was evidence of Bin Laden’s involvement. In November, 2002, United Arab Emirates authorities arrested al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the bombing.





Al-Nashiri was tried in absentia in a Yemeni court, and on September 29, 2004, he was convicted and sentenced to the death penalty. He was later handed over to U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Al-Bedawi was also tried and convicted; he also received the death penalty. A number of those convicted of the bombing later alleged that they had confessed under torture and that their convictions should be overturned. On February 3, 2006, al-Bedawi and twenty-three suspected or convicted al-Qaeda members escaped from a Yemeni prison.

On March 14, 2007, a U.S. federal judge in Norfolk, Virginia, ruled that the Sudanese government was responsible for the bombing. Families of the deceased Cole sailors had sued Sudan, claiming that al-Qaeda could not have carried out the attack without the support of the Sudanese government. The government unsuccessfully argued that too much time had elapsed between the filing of the lawsuit and the bombing.


The purpose of the attack on the USS Cole was in part to reduce the prestige of the U.S. Navy and to remove the U.S. military from the region. The United States was viewed by al-Qaeda operatives as having a significant presence in the Middle East, dictating to the world the appropriate course of action for various affairs. After the attack, Osama Bin Laden, in an attempt to increase recruitment for al-Qaeda, created a massive media campaign to bolster the image of the terrorist organization, including a reenactment of the explosion, images of al-Qaeda training camps, and an additional call for support for his jihad, or holy war, against the West.

The destroyer was out of commission for years after this incident, which raised a great number of questions about security in the United States. The event, which many later viewed as a precursor to the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center, may have strengthened al-Qaeda’s belief that it could have a significant impact on the United States. Moreover, the Cole was not believed to have been the initial intended target. On January 3, 2000, USS The Sullivans had stopped at Aden to refuel. However, the boat intended to carry out the bombing of The Sullivans reportedly sank before it was detonated. Terrorist acts Al-Qaeda[Al Qaeda];Cole attack Cole (ship)

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bergen, Peter. The Osama Bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al-Qaeda’s Leader. New York: Free Press, 2006. Court proceedings, newspaper articles, and interviews compiled to tell a story of the creation of al-Qaeda and many of its terrorist activities.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gunaratna, Rohan. Inside al-Qaeda: Global Network of Terror. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002. Includes detailed descriptions of numerous al-Qaeda operations as well as court proceedings and focuses much attention on Bin Laden.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Perl, Raphael, and Ronald O’Rourke. “Terrorist Attack on the U.S.S. Cole.” In Port and Maritime Security: Background and Issues, edited by John Frittelli. New York: Novinka Books, 2003. Discusses security issues related to ports, including container ships, port security, and changes to security after September 11, 2001.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Randal, Jonathan. Osama: The Making of a Terrorist. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004. The story of Osama Bin Laden and the numerous failed attempts by the United States to capture him.

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Categories: History