By ROBERT BURNS
WASHINGTON – The Navy has revised its timetable of the events leading to the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, raising new questions about how the attackers foiled Navy security.
The Navy said Friday the explosion occurred nearly two hours after the Cole was moored to a fuel dock, not during the mooring operation, as it had said before. That would mean the boat believed to have detonated the explosives did not blend in with a flotilla of harbor craft to mask the attack, as the Navy had said.
It is now less clear than before how the attacking boat could have approached the Cole without raising suspicion.
The Oct. 12 attack killed 17 U.S. sailors and injured 39. The last four bodies recovered from the Cole on Thursday were prepared Friday to be flown back to the United States from Bahrain. The remains of eight other Cole victims were returned to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Friday in preparation for burial.
Among the first set of five remains sent home last week was Craig Wibberley, a 19-year-old Maryland native. A wake and visitation were held Friday for Wibberley in Hagerstown, Md. He will be buried toSday.
In a brief statement Friday, the Navy’s Office of Information said earlier Navy statements now known to be erroneous were based on initial reports from the ship that were either wrong or were misunderstood by Pentagon officials. The Navy said it now has obtained additional information from the Cole’s records that change at least three points of fact in the official timeline.
This last point is of particular significance to investigators because it would seem to undercut the theory previously advanced by Navy officials that the small boat seen sidling up to the Cole at the time of the explosion used the mooring operation, involving several harbor workboats, as a means of masking its attack.
Navy officials had said the attacking boat did not raise suspicion because it appeared to be part of the mooring operation, in which small harbor boats take the ship’s lines to secure it to the floating dock.
The Navy has said the Cole and its crew were at the second-highest level of alert observed in the Fifth Fleet, of which the Cole was a part at that time. Crew members would have been assigned to watch through binoculars for boats approaching the Cole, and others keeping watch would have been armed with weapons.
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