October 12, 2000: Bombing of USS Cole in Yemen

After a failed first attempt, in 2000 Al Qaeda carried out a successful bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, killing 17 sailors and wounding 39.

After a failed first attempt, in 2000 Al Qaeda carried out a successful bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, killing 17 sailors and wounding 39.

ADEN, YEMEN – Even terrorists know “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”.

I am sure you are all aware of the story of the little train that could. If not, I am going to give it to you here:

A little railroad engine was employed about a station yard for such work as it was built for, pulling a few cars on and off the switches. One morning it was waiting for the next call when a long train of freight-cars asked a large engine in the roundhouse to take it over the hill. “I can’t; that is too much a pull for me”, said the great engine built for hard work. Then the train asked another engine, and another, only to hear excuses and be refused. In desperation, the train asked the little switch engine to draw it up the grade and down on the other side. “I think I can”, puffed the little locomotive, and put itself in front of the great heavy train. As it went on the little engine kept bravely puffing faster and faster, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” As it neared the top of the grade, which had so discouraged the larger engines, it went more slowly. However, it still kept saying, “I—think—I—can, I—think—I—can.” It reached the top by drawing on bravery and then went on down the grade, congratulating itself by saying, “I thought I could, I thought I could.”

Touching, isn’t it?

So what if terrorists think they are the little train that could?

On October 12, 2000 a small craft approached the American destroyer USS Cole as it lay in Aden harbour on a routine fuel stop. Two men in the boat smiled at the US sailors aboard and a massive explosion ensued, tearing a 12 by 25 metre gash in the ship. 17 US sailors died and another 39 were wounded. Al Qaeda was behind the bombing and AQ leader Usama bin Laden praised the suicide bombers.

I was walking in the midships passage, it lifted me off my feet and pushed me up against the overhead. I thought it’s the fuel tank, I thought maybe a missile. I wondered if another missile was coming.

Rick Harrison, USS Cole Machinery repairman

What is less widely known is that the terrorist cell had attempted a similar bombing against the USS Sullivans but failed when the amount of explosives made the attack boat sank. The terrorists learned their lessons and successfully launched a new operation in October.

I guess that means AQ is akin to the little train which said “I know I can I know I can.” And, in the end, it could.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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