Qaeda militant tied to deadly USS Cole bombing killed in airstrike

Seventeen U.S. sailors were killed and 39 wounded when suicide bombers hit the Navy ship in October 2000 in a Yemen harbor.
The damaged port side of the guided missile destroyer USS Cole after an attack blamed on the Qaeda terror network during a refueling operation in the Yemeni port of Aden.AFP file
  • Share this —
By Corky Siemaszko

One of the suspected architects of the deadly terrorist bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 was killed by a U.S. airstrike, U.S. Central Command said Sunday.

Jamal al-Badawi, an al Qaeda militant, was killed "in a precision strike" on New Year's Day in Marib governate of Yemen, U.S. Central Command said on Twitter.

"U.S. forces confirmed the results of the strike following a deliberate assessment process," the post said.

President Trump tweeted on Sunday that Badawi had been killed. "Our GREAT MILITARY has delivered justice for the heroes lost and wounded in the cowardly attack on the USS Cole," the president wrote.

On Friday, the Pentagon said al-Badawi may have been killed in the airstrike.

“We are aware of reports that Jamel al-Badawi was killed in a strike in Yemen,” Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, told NBC News.

The bombing of the USS Cole in a Yemen harbor came about 11 months before the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Seventeen American sailors were killed and 39 more were wounded in the attack on Oct. 12, 2000, when suicide bombers in a bomb-laden boat blew a 40-foot-by-40-foot hole in the hull of the Cole shortly after it pulled into the port of Aden for refueling.

Jamel al-Badawi, an Al Qaeda militant convicted of helping to plan the USS Cole bombing, was reportedly killed in an airstrike in Yemen on Jan. 4, 2019.Yahya Arhab / EPA file

Then-President Bill Clinton vowed to avenge the Americans' deaths. “To those who attacked them, we say: ‘You will not find a safe harbor,’” he declared.

Al-Badawi was captured by Yemen two months later and was in one of their prisons when Osama bin Laden's forces mounted the 9/11 attacks a year later.

But al-Badawi escaped in 2003, the same year he was indicted by a federal grand jury and charged with 50 counts of various terrorism offenses, including murder of U.S. nationals and murder of U.S. military personnel.

The Yemenis recaptured him a year later. But al-Badawi escaped again two years later with a group of prisoners who dug a tunnel out of the prison to a nearby mosque.

Believed to be 55 to 58 and a Yemeni citizen, al-Badawi has been on the run ever since, with the Justice Department offering up to $5 million for information leading to his arrest, according to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist list.

Meanwhile, another suspected plotter of the Cole attack, a Saudi named Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, remains imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay. He was captured in Dubai in 2002 and allegedly tortured at CIA “black sites” in Afghanistan, Poland, Romania and other countries.

Corky Siemaszko

Corky Siemaszko is a senior writer at NBC News Digital.