DUBAI — A Japanese tanker attacked last week near the Strait of Hormuz was targeted with mines resembling those previously displayed by the Iranian military, a U.S. Navy commander said Wednesday, adding to a string of remarks by U.S. officials blaming Iran for the assault.
Cmdr. Sean Kido, a naval explosives expert, said debris and a magnet left behind on the ship bore “a striking resemblance” to limpet mines Iranian forces advertised , including Tehran’s elite Revolutionary Guard, news agencies reported.
Iran has denied involvement in the twin attacks, which targeted a pair of commercial vessels in the Gulf of Oman and raised fears of a wider military conflagration in the Middle East.
The two ships — including Japan’s Kokuka Courageous and a Norwegian-owned vessel, the Front Altair — are now docked at the Emirati port of Fujairah, close to a base for the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.
Iran’s defense minister said Wednesday that U.S. allegations of Iran’s culpability were “a lie” and an attempt to “tarnish Iran’s face,” the semiofficial Fars news agency reported. He said footage previously released by U.S. Central Command that appeared to show Iranian sailors removing an unexploded mine from the Japan-owned tanker has “not been authenticated.”
Kido, who spoke to reporters near Fujairah, said authorities had recovered a handprint and fingerprints on the ship, which could “be used to build a criminal case to hold the individuals responsible accountable,” the Associated Press reported.
He said the placement of the mines above the Japanese tanker’s water line, however, suggested the intent was not to sink the vessel.
Kido did not discuss the attack on or any evidence gathered from the Front Altair.
U.S. allies, including Japan and Germany, have urged the United States to provide further evidence that Iran was behind the attack and have called for both sides to exercise restraint.
Iran this week announced plans to boost its stockpile of low-enriched uranium beyond limits set by a 2015 nuclear pact it struck with world powers, including the United States.
President Trump’s decision last year to violate that deal and reimpose sanctions on Iran has crippled the Iranian economy and threatened the accord’s survival.
Speaking at a security summit Wednesday in Russia, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, said that Iran will continue to gradually reduce its commitments under the deal, the Tasnim news agency reported.
It is possible that “Tehran is trying to goad the U.S. into confrontation,” the New York-based Eurasia Group, a political risk firm, said in a briefing note. “But this likely carries little benefit for Iran, as a limited war would still cause significant damage.”