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U.S. Navy Says It Has Proof Iran Was Involved in Oil Tanker Attacks

Zainab Fattah

A U.S. navy investigator presented what he said was evidence of Iran’s involvement in the attacks on tankers near the Persian Gulf, laying out the most detailed assessment that’s been made public since the incident raised tensions in the region earlier this month.

Commander Sean Kido, an explosives expert at the Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet, said the attack on the Japanese-operated vessel, the Kokuka Courageous, was carried out by a limpet mine planted on the tanker’s body above the water line.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday at a U.S. Naval Forces Central Command facility near the Port of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates, Kido said his team of investigators was able to recover a magnet used to attach the limpet mine to the skin of the ship. It also retrieved a handprint as well as fingerprints from near the spot where the magnet was found.

“The limpet mine that was used in the attack is distinguishable and it’s also strikingly bearing a resemblance to Iranian mines that have already been publicly displayed in Iranian military parades,” Kido said. “We recovered biometric information which can be used to build a criminal case to hold the individual responsible.”

Still, he stopped short of directly blaming Iran and presented no evidence about a second attack that same day on the Norwegian-owned Front Altair ship.

The burden of proof is on the U.S. to back up its claims that Iran was behind a spate of attacks on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, a shipping chokepoint through which about 40% of the world’s seaborne oil travels.

A picture taken on June 19, 2019 during a guided tour by the US Navy (NAVCENT) shows an item reportedly found on the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous linked to last week's attack on the oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman, at a UAE Naval facility near the port of the Gulf emirate of Fujairah. A Japanese tanker attacked in the Gulf of Oman last week was damaged by a limpet mine resembling Iranian mines, the US military in the Middle East said today. | AFP/Getty Images

In an unusual step, U.S. Central Command earlier released video footage of what it said was an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps patrol boat removing an unexploded mine from the Kokuka Courageous after another mine had detonated and damaged it. The blurry footage showing a small boat pulling up next to the tanker and crew removing an object from its hull was taken by U.S. aircraft in the region.

Although President Donald Trump has said “Iran did it,” that hasn’t erased questions about the strength of the evidence presented so far. Until now, his administration depended on the video and photographs released by U.S. Central Command.

Internationally, the U.K. said it’s “almost certain” Iran was behind the attacks because nobody else plausibly could have carried them out. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an independent investigation because “it is very important to know the truth.”

“The mine was placed above the water and it does not appear that the intention was to sink the vessel,” Kido said.

A round magnet as well as several fragments of materials recovered from the Kokuka Courageous were laid out on a white table cloth for reporters. It was part of the evidence collected by U.S. investigators who arrived at the scene after the blast, officials said.

Two nail holes were also visible in one section of the vessel, which the Navy’s expert said were also used to attach the mines.

Also recovered were the “fragmentations caused by the detonation of the limpet mine which is composed of an aluminum material as well as a composite material,” Kido said.

The expert contradicted statements made by the ship’s Japanese owner who said the damage to the hull was caused by a projectile. As to why a magnet was left behind, an official suggested it might have been hard to remove. Sailors described seeing two men use a crowbar to pry it loose.

“The damage at the blast hole is consistent with a limpet mine attack,” Kido said. “It’s not consistent with an external flying object striking the ship.”

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