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US, G-7 Say Evidence in Oil Tanker Attack Points to Iran


FILE - The Mercer Street tanker that was attacked off Oman's coast is seen near Cape Town, South Africa, Dec. 31, 2015, in this photo obtained from ship tracker website
FILE - The Mercer Street tanker that was attacked off Oman's coast is seen near Cape Town, South Africa, Dec. 31, 2015, in this photo obtained from ship tracker website

U.S. military investigators and Western diplomats are ratcheting up the pressure on Iran, saying all the evidence collected in a deadly drone attack on an oil tanker off the coast of Oman points to Tehran.

The most detailed accusations came as part of a report by U.S. military investigators that was released Friday by U.S. Central Command.

The investigators, from the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, issued their findings following a visit to the MV Mercer Street, which suffered a series of strikes last week. Their report concluded that drone remnants found on and near the damaged tanker "were identical to [components in] previously identified Iranian unmanned one-way attack systems."

"Iran was actively involved in this attack,” according to the report released Friday by U.S. Central Command. It said the drone fragments, specifically one of the fins, were identical to those found on other so-called kamikaze drones produced by Iran and used in attacks throughout the region.

Iran has repeatedly denied any involvement in the attack.

On Friday, Iran's deputy U.N. ambassador, Zahra Ershadi, warned against any retaliation.

"Iran will not hesitate to defend itself and secure its national interests," Ershadi said.

But U.S. investigators said debris found at the scene left little doubt about Iranian involvement, including the use of military-grade explosives, which blew open a 6-foot-wide hole in the tanker’s pilot house.

U.S. Central Command spokesman Captain Bill Urban said that other evidence also pointed to Tehran’s involvement.

"The distance from the Iranian coast to the locations of the attacks was within the range of documented Iranian one-way attack UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles],” Urban said.

U.S. investigators further said it appeared the MV Mercer Street had been hit by a total of three drones on July 29-30, with at least one of them “rigged to cause injury and destruction.”

British and Israeli explosives experts, who were given access to evidence, concurred with the U.S. findings, according to CENTCOM.

Like those in the U.S., Israeli officials have expressed concern about Iran's increased use of one-way attack drones. And in a call Friday with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz pledged continued close cooperation to counter Iran's aggression.

Israeli company managed ship

The MV Mercer Street, a Japanese-owned vessel managed by an Israeli-owned London-based company, was about 159 kilometers from Al Duqm port in Oman when it came under attack last week.

Two crew members, the ship’s Romanian captain and a British security guard, were killed.

A statement earlier Friday by foreign ministers of the Group of Seven liberal democracies also blamed Tehran for the attack.

“This was a deliberate and targeted attack, and a clear violation of international law,” the statement said. “There is no justification.”

Earlier this week, Britain’s top military commander called on Western powers to retaliate against Iran or risk further emboldening the regime in Tehran.

Iran this week was also accused in some media outlets of engineering an attempted hijacking of another oil tanker, the Panamanian-flagged Asphalt Princess, in the Gulf of Oman.

Iran denied involvement in the incident, though Israeli officials said they had evidence linking Tehran to the attack.

Some information for this report came from Reuters.