UAE: Terrorists Attacked Japan Tanker In Gulf

Officials in the United Arab Emirates say they found traces of explosives on the hull of a Japanese oil tanker, damaged in an explosion in the Persian Gulf late last month. A little known militant group, the Abdullah al-Azzam Brigades, claimed responsibility for the attack on the tanker, calling it a martyrdom operation. Peter Kenyon

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

It was a mystery. Last week, a strange explosion damaged a Japanese supertanker in the Persian Gulf. Well today, investigators from the United Arab Emirates announced that the tanker was the target of an unsuccessful terrorist attack.

NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Istanbul.

PETER KENYON: The explosion that forced the tanker M. Star to return to the UAE with its load of oil last week sparked international concern, with divers from the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet assisting Emirati investigators.

A number of theories were considered, including a rogue wave or a collision with another vessel. But the UAE's official news agency reported today that investigators found a dent and traces of what were described as homemade explosives on the M. Star's starboard hull, leading them to conclude that a water-borne attack probably caused the blast.

The explosion left only one crewmember wounded and caused no oil spill, but the news reawakened concern about protecting vital shipping lanes. Industrialized countries have already deployed naval ships in an effort to protect oil and other cargo from pirates in the Gulf of Aden and elsewhere.

This attempt against the Japanese tanker occurred in the narrow Strait of Hormuz, running between Iran, Oman and the UAE, which sees an estimated 40 percent of the world's tanker-borne oil traffic.

Earlier this week, an Islamist group calling itself the Abdullah al-Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for the attack. Analysts were initially skeptical of the claim, noting that the group was known for operating from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. But counterterrorism experts have long warned that Islamist groups opposed to the Western exploitation of Middle Eastern oil could develop the means to target oil tankers.

The M. Star completed its repairs and departed the UAE to resume its voyage to Japan. Japanese officials said their own investigation into the cause of the explosion was ongoing.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.

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