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Iran Denies U.S. Claim That It Attacked Tankers In Gulf Of Oman

Updated at 9 a.m. ET

A day after two tankers were allegedly attacked in the Gulf of Oman, the U.S. military released a video on Friday that it said shows Iran's Revolutionary Guard removing an unexploded mine from one of the stricken ships in an apparent effort to hide Tehran's involvement.

Iran has denied it had anything to do with Thursday's explosions and fires aboard the tankers Front Altair and Kokuka Courageous, which were steaming about 10 nautical miles from each other and issued distress calls less than an hour apart. Their crews abandoned the vessels, and all 44 people on board were recovered without serious injury.

On Friday morning, President Trump referenced the video during an interview with Fox & Friends and said, "Iran did do it, and you know they did it because you saw the boat."

Calling Iran "a nation of terror," Trump did not discuss whether the U.S. plans to take action in response, saying only, "We'll see what happens."

"We want to get them back to the table if they want to go back," he said. "I'm ready when they are, whenever they're ready, it's OK. In the meantime, I'm in no rush."

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has rejected the U.S. accusations, tweeting that the Trump administration "immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran [without] a shred of factualor circumstantial evidence."

In an earlier tweet, Zarif hinted at a conspiracy, noting that the tankers, one owned by a Japanese firm, occurred as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was meeting with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. "Suspicious doesn't begin to describe what likely transpired," he wrote.

The president of the Japanese company operating the Kokuka Courageous says he doesn't believe a mine or torpedo was used in the alleged attack.

Kokuka Sangyo President Yutaka Katada "quoted the crew of the vessel as saying they saw something fly toward the vessel, and that it pierced the hull," Japanese broadcaster NHK News reports.

Speaking at a news conference Friday, Katada noted that the tanker's hull was hit well above the waterline, NHK says, "and that chances are slim that a mine or a torpedo was involved."

A photo released by U.S. Central Command allegedly shows damage to the tanker Kokuka Courageous from Iranian limpet mines.
/ U.S. Central Command
U.S. Central Command
A photo released by U.S. Central Command allegedly shows damage to the tanker Kokuka Courageous from Iranian limpet mines.

In a statement released with the video, the U.S. Central Command said video footage showed an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Gashti Class patrol boat alongside the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous "removing [an] unexploded limpet mine."

It also released a detailed timeline of events and photos said to show mine damage on the side of one of the ships.

Central Command said that another vessel, Hyundai Dubai — which was earlier reported to have picked up the Front Altair's 23 crew members — later complied with a request from an Iranian fast-attack craft "to turn the crew over" to them.

An Iranian Hendijan-class patrol boat "appeared to attempt to get to the Coastal Ace" — a tug that had picked up the 21 crew members from Kokuka Courageous. The statement said USS Bainbridge, a guided missile destroyer, intervened "at the request of the [tanker's] master" and transferred the crew members to the U.S. vessel.

As The Associated Press says of the U.S. video, "Such imagery is often difficult to declassify and its release appeared to show U.S. efforts to convince the international community of Iran's culpability in Thursday's attacks on the Kokuka Courageous and the Norwegian-owned Front Altair."

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, at a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Kyrgyzstan, reached out to allies that are seen as less susceptible to U.S. pressure, including Russian Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Xi reportedly told Rouhani that China would promote steady development of ties with Iran, no matter how the international situation changed.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.
Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.