The 10 U.S. sailors missing in the bombing of the U.S. Navy warship in Yemen are presumed dead, raising the death toll in the apparent terrorist attack to 17, the Navy said Friday.
Navy officials also said explosives experts who examined the USS Cole's damaged hull have concluded that the blast came from an external source, adding to the evidence that the attack was a deliberate act, officials said.
Navy spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Cate Mueller said families of the 10 missing sailors are being notified that they are presumed to have died in the explosion. Efforts to recover their remains are continuing, she said.
In addition to the seven confirmed dead and 10 presumed dead, about 35 were injured in the blast Thursday. Mueller said the Navy would release the names of the casualties when all families have been notified.
U.S. forces evacuated two dozen injured American sailors, and a U.S. Navy spokesman said the crippled destroyer would be towed back to the United States.
The French Defense Ministry said Friday its army planes had taken 11 of the injured overnight to a military hospital in neighboring Djibouti, where six underwent surgery. Lt. Terrence Dudley, a U.S. Navy spokesman, said the rest were evacuated Friday by planes arriving from a U.S. military base in Germany. It wasn't clear how seriously the sailors were injured or where they would be taken.
A death toll of 17 would be the highest for a terrorist attack on the American military since the bombing of the Khobar Towers housing complex in Saudi Arabia in 1996, which killed 17 Air Force troops.
Mueller said a team of Navy explosive ordnance disposal experts examined the damaged hull of the Cole and determined conclusively that the explosion was caused by an external source. It is believed to have come from a small boat that pulled up alongside the warship Thursday in the port of Aden and set off a high-explosive charge.
The conclusion reached by the explosives experts strengthens the belief that the incident was a terrorist act, officials said.
The divers who examined the hull now estimate that the hole created by the blast is 30 feet high and 40 feet wide, Mueller said. The initial estimate was 20 feet high and 40 feet wide.
The USS Cole, one of the world's most advanced warships, was left slightly tilted in Aden harbor after the explosion. "The ship took (in) some water and we are trying to dewater it. But, generally, it is seaworthy and we will tow it to the United States," said Dudley, of the Bahrain-based U.S. Fifth Fleet.
The Cole is a $1 billion guided missile destroyer based at Norfolk, Va. It was heading with a crew of about 350 to the Gulf for maritime operations in support of the U.N. embargo against Iraq.
Also on Friday, an explosion rocked the British Embassy 200 miles away in the Yemeni capital, San`a. Windows shattered, but nobody was hurt. Britain's foreign secretary said a bomb may have been flung into embassy grounds. Authorities were investigating.
Anti-American sentiment has been running high in the Arab world, where protesters have condemned the United States during demonstrations against Israel's actions in two weeks of deadly clashes in Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories.
Yemen, an impoverished country on the tip of the Arabian Penisula on the Red Sea, is known for its anarchic politics, streak of fundamentalism and routine snatches of Western hostages who generally are exchanged unharmed for government pledges to provide basic services.
Still, the attack on the 9,100-ton destroyer surprised Yemenis.
"The American ships have been coming for quite some time and nobody shows anger," Mohammed el-Attar, a Yemeni journalist in Aden said Thursday.
In Washington, President Clinton said Thursday that the USS Cole explosion appeared to be an act of terrorism, the worst against the U.S. military since the bombing of an Air Force barracks in Saudi Arabia in 1996 that killed 19 troops. U.S. officials say suicide bombers blew up their small boat next to the warship while it was refueling, tearing a hole 20 to 40 feet in diameter.
"We will find out who was responsible and hold them accountable," Clinton pledged. He dispatched to Yemen investigative teams from the FBI, the State Department and the Pentagon. Clinton also ordered a heightened state of alert for all U.S. military installations around the world.
No one has claimed responsibility, Defense Secretary William Cohen told a Pentagon news conference.
Yemeni officials privately rejected the accusations of a suicide attack, saying a joint investigation was needed to determine the cause of the blast.
Yemeni police officials said a number of people had been detained for questioning, but they would not give a number, nor would they say if the detainees were considered suspects.
Yemeni police and soldiers sealed off the port area, preventing ships and small boats from approaching the warship. Gen. Mohamed Saleh Gedrif, Aden security chief, refused to allow journalists into the port, saying the area is considered a closed security zone.
The explosion at the USS Cole broke windows in homes and businesses along the Red Sea coast and overturned a car passing about 60 feet from the destroyer. It wasn't clear what happened to the occupants.
Yemen became a more frequent refueling stop for Navy ships following a December 1997 U.S. decision to open up contacts and cooperation with the country. Four years earlier, there had been small bombings outside the U.S. Embassy and at hotels where Americans were staying.
Islamic extremists have been active in Yemen. However, Yemeni Prime Minister Abdul-Karim al-Iryani said in March that the United States' most-wanted terror suspect, Osama bin Laden, at one time had "colleagues" in Yemen, but now "has no place in Yemen, no military camps."
The United States accuses bin Laden of organizing a militant network with followers across the Mideast, including Yemen, and says he masterminded 1998 bombings against the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 224 people.