NOEL KING, HOST:
In October of the year 2000, there was a terror attack on the USS Cole. Seventeen sailors were killed, and dozens more were injured. Al-Qaida claimed responsibility, and then President Bill Clinton vowed to go after them.
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BILL CLINTON: If, as it now appears, this was an act of terrorism, it was a despicable and cowardly act. We will find out who was responsible and hold them accountable.
KING: Now more than 18 years later, U.S. Central Command confirms that on New Year's Day, Jamal al-Badawi was killed in a precision strike in Central Yemen. He was one of the alleged planners. NPR's Quil Lawrence has the story.
QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Badawi was killed in Marib province, east of the Yemeni capital Sanaa. The alleged al-Qaida operative had been indicted by a U.S. grand jury 15 years ago but eluded U.S. custody even as he was twice imprisoned in Yemen and twice escaped. He was believed to be around 55 years old. Similar assassinations have been carried out by armed CIA drones, but CENTCOM officials offered no further details of the Badawi strike. The U.S. government had a $5 million bounty on his head. The attack on the USS Cole, coming a year before 9/11, would later be seen as an unheeded warning that al-Qaida's network of extremists was capable of inflicting serious damage on the U.S. military using asymmetrical tactics. Two suicide bombers in a small boat motored alongside the U.S. destroyer as it refueled in the Yemeni harbor of Aden. They detonated a thousand-pound bomb that ripped open the hull, killing and wounding dozens. At the time, Yemen was a relatively stable American ally. Today the country is riven by civil war and famine, with the U.S. supporting Saudi Arabia's deadly air campaign against Iranian-backed rebels. Badawi organized the logistics of the attack from Yemen. But the alleged mastermind of the Cole bombing, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, is in American custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He faces charges before a military tribunal, which carry the death penalty. President Trump tweeted praise of the military and said, quote, "our work against al-Qaida continues. We will never stop in our fight against radical Islamic terrorism." But Washington has delivered a mixed message about whether it will continue fighting the Islamic State group in Syria after President Trump had signaled his intent to pull out U.S. troops. Quil Lawrence, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.