A day after two tankers were allegedly attacked in the Gulf of Oman, the U.S. military released a video on Friday 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 explosions and fires aboard the tankers Front Altair and Kokuka Courageous, which were steaming approximately 10 nautical miles from each other and issued distress calls less than an hour apart. Their crews abandoned the vessels and all 44 of them were recovered without serious injury.
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif rejected the U.S. accusations, tweeting that the Trump administration "immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran [without] a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence."
In an earlier tweet, Zarif hinted at a conspiracy, noting that the tankers, one owned by a Japanese firm, occurred as Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was meeting with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. "Suspicious doesn't begin to describe what likely transpired ...," he wrote.
In a statement released with the video, the U.S. Central Command said video footage showed an IRGC Gashti Class patrol boat alongside the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous "removing [an] unexploded limpet mine."
Central Command 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 aboard the U.S. vessel.
As The Associated Press notes, "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 seen as less susceptible to U.S. pressure, including Russia's 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.
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