US says video shows Iran removing mine from stricken tanker
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The U.S. military released a video Friday 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.