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U.S. military releases video alleging Iran removed mine from stricken oil tanker

  • U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND VIA AP

    Damage and a suspected mine on the Kokuka Courageous in the Gulf of Oman near the coast of Iran. The U.S. military released a video it said showed Iran’s Revolutionary Guard removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the oil tankers targeted near the Strait of Hormuz, suggesting the Islamic Republic sought to remove evidence of its involvement from the scene.

  • EUROPEAN COMMISSION VIA AP

    This false-color image from the European Commission’s Sentinel-2 satellite that was processed by Sinergise’s Sentinel Hub website shows the Norwegian-owned MT Front Altair ablaze with smoke rising from it in the Gulf of Oman after what the U.S. described as a limpet mine attack by Iran. Iran has denied being involved in the incident. The white light in the image is the sun being reflected off the waters of the Gulf of Oman.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Yutaka Katada, president of Kokuka Sangyo Co., the Japanese company operating one of two oil tankers attacked near the Strait of Hormuz, shows a photo of the attacked oil tanker during a news conference in Tokyo. Iran rejects a U.S. accusation against Tehran over suspected attacks on two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

  • U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND VIA AP

    Damage and a suspected mine on the Kokuka Courageous in the Gulf of Oman near the coast of Iran. The U.S. military released a video it said showed Iran’s Revolutionary Guard removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the oil tankers targeted near the Strait of Hormuz, suggesting the Islamic Republic sought to remove evidence of its involvement from the scene.

  • EUROPEAN COMMISSION VIA AP

    This false-color image from the European Commission’s Sentinel-2 satellite that was processed by Sinergise’s Sentinel Hub website shows the Norwegian-owned MT Front Altair, bottom right, ablaze with smoke rising from it in the Gulf of Oman after what the U.S. described as a limpet mine attack by Iran. Iran has denied being involved in the incident. The land mass to the left is the United Arab Emirates and Oman on the Arabian Peninsula. The land mass in the upper right-hand corner is Iran.

  • MASS COMMUNICATION SPECIALIST 3RD CLASS JASON WAITE, U.S. NAVY VIA AP

    Sailors aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge render aid to the crew of the Kokuka Courageous, one of two oil tankers suspected to have been attacked in the Gulf of Oman. The U.S. military released a video it said showed Iran’s Revolutionary Guard removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the oil tankers targeted near the Strait of Hormuz, suggesting the Islamic Republic sought to remove evidence of its involvement from the scene.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES >> The U.S. military released a video today it said showed Iran’s Revolutionary Guard removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the oil tankers targeted near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, suggesting Tehran wanted to hide evidence of its alleged involvement.

Iran denied any role in Thursday’s apparent attacks, which have again roiled the Persian Gulf amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington over the unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.

Four other oil tankers off the nearby Emirati port city of Fujairah suffered similar attacks in recent weeks, and Iranian-allied rebels from Yemen have struck U.S. ally Saudi Arabia with drones and missiles.

President Donald Trump withdrew America last year from the 2015 nuclear deal that Iran reached with world powers and recently imposed a series of sanctions now squeezing its beleaguered economy and cutting deeply into its oil exports. While Iran maintains it has nothing to do with the recent attacks, its leaders repeatedly have threatened to close the vital Strait of Hormuz, through which 20 percent of the world’s oil flows.

Iran accused Washington of waging an “Iranophobic campaign” against it, while Trump countered that the country was “a nation of terror.”

“Iran did do it,” he said of the attack, in remarks Friday morning to “Fox & Friends.”

The black-and-white U.S. video of the Iranians alongside the Japanese-owned tanker Kokuka Courageous came after its crew abandoned ship after seeing the undetonated explosive on its hull, said Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for the U.S. military’s Central Command. It separately shared photos of the vessel, which showed what appeared to be a conical limpet mine against its side.

In the video, the boat from Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard pulls alongside Kokuka Courageous at 4:10 p.m. Thursday. The Iranians reach up and grab along where the limpet mine could be seen in the photo. They then sail away.

Analysts say Iran, if involved, wouldn’t want investigators to find an unexploded mine because they could check its serial numbers and other attributes to trace it.

“The U.S. and the international community stand ready to defend our interests, including the freedom of navigation,” Urban said in a statement. “The United States has no interest in engaging in a new conflict in the Middle East. However, we will defend our interests.”

In a statement from its U.N. mission, Iran accused the U.S. of escalating tensions.

“The U.S. economic war and terrorism against the Iranian people as well as its massive military presence in the region have been and continue to be the main sources of insecurity and instability in the wider Persian Gulf region and the most significant threat to its peace and security,” the statement said.

In Tokyo, the owner of the Kokuka Courageous said its sailors saw “flying objects” before the attack, suggesting it wasn’t damaged by mines. Company president Yutaka Katada offered no evidence for his claim, which contradicted the U.S. military account.

Katada also said crew members saw an Iranian naval ship nearby, but did not specify whether this was before or after the attacks.

The suspected attacks occurred at dawn Thursday about 40 kilometers (25 miles) off the southern coast of Iran. The Front Altair, loaded with naphtha from the United Arab Emirates, radioed for help as its cargo of flammable chemicals caught fire. The Kokuka Courageous, carrying methanol from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, called for help a short time later.

The U.S. Navy sent the USS Bainbridge, which picked up 21 sailors from the Kokuka Courageous, and they stayed overnight on the destroyer, returning to their vessel Friday to help in it being towed.

Thursday’s attack resembled one in May that targeted four oil tankers off the nearby Emirati port of Fujairah. U.S. officials similarly accused Iran of using limpet mines, which are magnetic and attach to a ship’s hull. The mines are designed to disable — but not sink — a vessel.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. assessment of Iran’s involvement was based in part on intelligence, as well as the expertise needed for the operation. It was also based on recent incidents, including the Fujairah attack, he said. He also tied Iran to a drone attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on a crucial Saudi oil pipeline around the same time.

“Taken as a whole, these unprovoked attacks present a clear threat to international peace and security, a blatant assault on the freedom of navigation and an unacceptable campaign of escalating tension by Iran,” Pompeo said. He didn’t elaborate.

Iran also denied being involved in last month’s attacks. Its foreign minister questioned the timing of Thursday’s incidents, given that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was meeting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran.

Pompeo noted that Abe had asked Iran to enter into talks with Washington but Tehran “rejected” the overture.

“The supreme leader’s government then insulted Japan by attacking a Japanese-owned oil tanker just outside Iranian waters, threatening the lives of the entire crew, creating a maritime emergency,” Pompeo added.

The U.N. Security Council held closed consultations on the tanker incidents late Thursday at the request of the U.S. but took no action.

Tensions have escalated in the Mideast as Iran appears poised to break the nuclear deal, which Trump repudiated last year. In the deal, Tehran agreed to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of crippling sanctions. Now, Iran is threatening to resume enriching uranium closer to weapons-grade levels if European nations don’t offer it new terms to the deal by July 7.

Already, Iran says it quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium. Meanwhile, U.S. sanctions have cut off opportunities for Iran to trade its excess uranium and heavy water abroad, putting Tehran on course to violate terms of the nuclear deal regardless.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia said early Friday its military intercepted five drones launched by Houthi rebels targeting the kingdom, including the Abha regional airport. The kingdom said a similar attack Wednesday on the airport wounded 26 people.

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