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Search on for attack planners

©Associated Press

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 14, 2000

ADEN, Yemen -- With the crippled USS Cole listing slightly in the harbor, American investigators, Marines and soldiers swarmed into this deep-water port Friday, bringing sniffer dogs and sophisticated equipment to search for clues in the blast that killed 17 American sailors.

Wounded U.S. sailors and the bodies of some of the dead were flown to Germany en route home; the Navy said the ship would be repaired and stay in service.

The Navy released the names of the 17 dead on Friday. All but one were from the enlisted ranks and two were women. Lt. Terrence Dudley, a U.S. Navy spokesman in Aden, said Navy chaplains had arrived to console survivors.

"I'm just numb. It hasn't sunk in yet," said Patty Wibberley, mother of Seaman Craig Wibberley, 19, killed in the explosion.

Bomb experts quickly determined Thursday's explosion "was a blast from the outside," Adm. Vernon Clark, the chief naval officer, said in Washington. His comments countered any suggestion weaponry aboard the ship might have been responsible.

U.S. officials say suicide bombers blew up a small boat next to the 8,600-ton destroyer, ripping a 30-by 40-foot hole at the water line.

The New York Times, citing senior defense officials, reported that the United States received a general warning of a possible attack on a U.S. warship last month, but the warning lacked detail and did not specify the country in which to expect the attack.

The Associated Press reported that Western diplomats said the attack was apparently the work of a well-organized group with good connections in the port of Aden who might have provided the bombers with logistical support.

More than 200 miles away, in the capital, San"a, an explosion on Friday rocked the British Embassy. Windows shattered but nobody was hurt. Britain's foreign secretary said a bomb may have been flung into embassy grounds. Authorities were investigating.

President Clinton dispatched investigators from the FBI, U.S. State Department and Pentagon to Yemen, and ordered a heightened state of alert for all U.S. military installations around the world. More than 100 FBI evidence and explosives experts were expected to arrive over the weekend.

The Cole investigation was taking place under tight security in this city of 800,000 squeezed between the sea and a range of jagged hills. Yemeni soldiers were posted outside the hotel where most U.S. investigators and their Marine guards were staying. Inside, the Marines carried automatic rifles and closely monitored anyone coming in.

The ship, a white cloth billowing over the gaping hole ripped into the hull by the blast, sat isolated in an inner area of the harbor. Yemeni speedboats patrolled the area bounded by the coast and a peninsula.

Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said Friday that the ship is stable, some power has been restored and Navy divers found the keel in good shape.

The Cole is a $1-billion guided missile destroyer. Its home port is Norfolk, Va, and it was heading with a crew of about 293 to the Persian Gulf to support the U.N. embargo against Iraq.

At the Ramstein Air Base in western Germany, a flight carrying the bodies of five of the dead arrived Friday. Light rain fell as an Air Force honor guard silently transferred the caskets draped in U.S. flags from an Air Force jet into separate hearses.

A transport plane carrying 28 walking wounded arrived at Rhein-Main Air Base near Frankfurt early this morning, said a spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Felicia Tavares. The injured were being taken by bus to Landstuhl, about 60 miles southwest, for evaluation and treatment.

A second plane carrying more seriously injured sailors evacuated to the east African country of Djibouti also was to fly to a U.S. military facility in Europe later this morning, although the destination was uncertain, Tavares said.

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