The United States has accused Iran of being behind the attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman after releasing incriminating video footage.
The US military released the video on Friday saying it shows Iran’s Revolutionary Guard removing an unexploded mine from one of the oil tankers targeted near the Strait of Hormuz.
It suggested the Iran had sought to remove evidence of its involvement from the scene.
US Central Command also released photographs showing the apparent mine, which attaches to the side of a ship magnetically.
The Daily Telegraph reports that the classified black-and-white images showed US determination to convince the international community that Iran was responsible for Thursday’s attacks on the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous, and the Norwegian-owned Front Altair.
A video released by the US shows Iran removing an unexploded mine after an attack on two tankers, the US says.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) June 14, 2019
However, the Japanese operator of Kokuka Courageous said the crew saw “flying objects” just before the attack, suggesting the tanker was damaged by something other than mines. Yutaka Katada, the company president, said reports of a mine attack were “false”.
Both vessels suffered explosions, forcing crews to abandon ship and leave them adrift in waters between Gulf Arab states and Iran. All crew members were safely evacuated.
Navy Captain Bill Urban, a Central Command spokesman, said the Revolutionary Guard vessel was observed at 4.10pm local time approaching the Kokuka Courageous.
He said: “It was observed and recorded removing the unexploded limpet mine from the Kokuka Courageous.”
He added: “The United States has no interest in engaging in a new conflict in the Middle East. However, we will defend our interests.”
Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, said: “Taken as a whole these unprovoked attacks present a clear threat to international peace and security, a blatant assault on the freedom of navigation and an unacceptable campaign of escalating tension by Iran”.
Mr Pompeo said American assessment of Iran’s responsibility was based on intelligence sources, the weapons used and the level of expertise, saying “no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication”.
Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, said the UK believed the US assessment that Iran was responsible but repeated his warning there was a serious danger of the US and Iran stumbling into an unwanted war.