By ROBERT BURNS
WASHINGTON — Navy bomb experts have determined without doubt that the explosion that tore through the warship USS Cole, killing 17, "was a blast from the outside," adding to the evidence that it was a deliberate act, Adm. Vern Clark said today.
"I’ve said all along, from where I stand, in my view this was clearly a terrorist act," Clark, the chief naval officer, said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Navy officials said today that the 10 sailors still missing from the USS Cole are now presumed to have died. Seven bodies have been recovered. Officials said they expected to find more today.
"We don’t want to destroy hope, but we don’t want to create false hope, either," Clark said. Other Navy officials said the assumption is that the missing are dead, but there will be no formal change in their status until they are recovered, since the bodies are known to be inside the ship.
The Navy released the names of the 17 Friday. All but one is from the enlisted ranks. Two are female.
Navy officials also said explosives experts who examined the ship’s damaged hull have concluded that the blast — which created a hole 30 feet high and 40 feet wide at the ship’s waterline — came from an external source.
"There had been some talk that this was a blast internal to the ship; their conclusion is: no way," Clark said. "Clearly it was a blast from outside."
Clark said he was not aware whether the explosives experts reached any conclusions about the type or size of explosive used in the attack. "It’s going to take scientific dissection" to make those determinations, he 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 missing, about 33 were injured in the blast Thursday. Lt. Cmdr. Daren Pelkie, a spokesman at 5th Fleet headquarters in Bahrain, said Friday that 11 of the 33 had been flown to a French military medical facility in Djibouti, and the 22 others were being readied for transport to Germany.
Mueller said the Navy would release the names of the casualties when all families have been notified.
Clark, interviewed on NBC’s "Today," said all but three of the families of the dead and missing had been notified. "The individuals we haven’t located yet aren’t home. They are traveling some place and that’s the challenge for us."
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 USS 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.
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