- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 29, 2003

NORFOLK (AP) — The USS Cole and its crew of 340 pulled out of port yesterday for the destroyer’s first overseas deployment since it was bombed by terrorists three years ago in Yemen’s port of Aden.

A crowd of about 100 family members watched as the ship left the Naval Station Norfolk at 12:55 p.m.

“The families are sad to see their sailors leave, but they know they have a job,” said Lt. j.g. Kelley Anderson, a Navy spokeswoman.

The guided-missile destroyer was brought back to the United States and underwent $250 million in repairs at Northrop Grumman’s Ingalls shipyard in Mississippi following the Oct. 12, 2000, attack. Two suicide bombers had driven an explosive-packed boat into the side of the Cole, tearing a large hole in the ship.

The explosion killed 17 crew members, wounded 39 and nearly sank the destroyer.

Last week, Yemeni security forces captured the suspected mastermind of the attack, Mohammed Hamdi al-Ahdal. A U.S. counterterrorism official in Washington who confirmed the Tuesday capture said al-Ahdal had been among the top 20 al Qaeda figures at large.

Meanwhile, a new watchdog report said that the Yemeni government has received weapons shipments — containing rifles, along with 176 Soviet-era tanks, 60 tank cannons and a dozen L-39 combat jets — in the past four years from an unidentified licensed Czech arms dealer.

The Czech exports raise troubling questions about the ultimate buyers since Yemen, a hotbed of al Qaeda activity, has a history of reselling arms to people from volatile nations across the Mideast and Africa, human rights groups say.

The Cole and two other destroyers in the Norfolk-based Surface Strike Group, the USS Thorn and USS Gonzalez, are now scheduled to head to the Mediterranean Sea for about six months, the spokeswoman said. They officially are part of the Enterprise carrier strike group, which left in October.

The three ships had been scheduled to leave Friday, but 10-foot to 14-foot waves along its planned route prompted the Navy to delay the departure.

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