On October 12, 2000, two suicide pilots of a small bomb-laden boat pulled alongside of the USS Cole at midship, offered friendly gestures to several crew members, and detonated their explosives.
The U.S. destroyer, en route to the Persian Gulf, was making a prearranged fuel stop at the port of Aden, Yemen, when the attack occurred.
The blast ripped a 40-foot-wide hole near the waterline of the Cole, killing 17 U.S. sailors and injuring nearly 40 other crew members.
The FBI quickly sent to Yemen more than 100 agents from the Counterterrorism Division, the FBI Laboratory, and various field offices. Director Louis Freeh arrived soon after to assess the situation and to meet with the President of Yemen.
Numerous FBI field offices and legal attaches, several hundred FBI agents and support staff, and Joint Terrorism Task Force personnel ultimately took part in the investigation.
The FBI also established a cooperative working relationship with the government of Yemen. On November 29, 2000, a guidance document was signed between the U.S. State Department and the Yemeni government setting protocols for questioning witnesses and suspects. FBI and Yemeni investigators proceeded with interviews, and a large amount of physical evidence was shipped back to the FBI Laboratory for examination.
FBI photographers took pictures of the crime scene that assisted in identifying the victims and provided detailed photographic information regarding the impact of the explosion. Later, personnel from the FBI Lab, as well as bomb technicians and agents from New York and Jackson Field Offices, traveled to Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Mississippi, where the Cole had been brought, to examine the ship for additional evidence.
The extensive FBI investigation ultimately determined that members of the al Qaeda terrorist network planned and carried out the bombing. The investigation also revealed that the USS Cole bombing followed an unsuccessful attempt on January 3, 2000, to bomb another U.S. Navy ship, the USS The Sullivans. In this earlier incident, the terrorist boat sank before the explosives could be detonated; however, the boat and the explosives were salvaged. The boat was then refitted, and the explosives were tested and reused in the USS Cole attack.
By the end of 2000, Yemeni authorities had arrested several suspects, including Jamal Muhammad Ahmad Al-Badawi and Fahad Muhammad Ahmad Al-Quso, two of the alleged masterminds of the USS The Sullivans and the USS Cole plots. Al-Badawi and Al-Quso—known al Qaeda operatives who trained in al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan during the 1990s—were later killed in separate U.S. airstrikes.
Another key figure in the plot—Tawfiq Mohummad bin Saleh bin Roshayed bin Attash—is currently in U.S. custody.
Abdullah Al-Rimi remains wanted for questioning relating to any knowledge he might have of the attack on the USS Cole.