Qaeda militant tied to deadly USS Cole bombing believed killed in airstrike

One of the suspected architects of the deadly terrorist bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 may have been killed by a U.S. airstrike, the Pentagon said Friday.

“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.

 

Officials were still trying to confirm whether the Qaeda militant had been felled by a precision strike on New Year’s Day in the Marib governate of Yemen.

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.

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.

This article originally appeared on NBC