Iran Launched Missile at American Drone Before Gulf Tankers Attack, U.S. Official Says

An American MQ-9 Reaper drone identified Iranian boats closing in on the tankers, the official told CNN

Smoke billowing from the Front Altair tanker said to have been attacked off the coast of Oman, June 13, 2019.
Reuters

Iran launched a surface-to-air missile at a U.S drone several hours before the attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday, a U.S. official told CNN on Friday.  

The missile missed the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and crashed into the water, CNN quoted the official as saying. 

The official said an American MQ-9 Reaper drone identified Iranian boats approaching the tankers, however, did not provide information whether the UAV spotted the vessels carrying out the attack.

Map locating the two tankers hit in suspected attacks in the Gulf of Oman on June 13, 2019
Reuters

>> Read more: Strait of Hormuz: What happens if the world's key oil artery gets blocked? ■ Analysis: Oman attack: Iran is the immediate, but unlikely, suspect   

The official also said that the United States believes that in the days prior to the attack, Iran-backed Houthis shot down a U.S. reaper drone in the Red Sea.

Two oil tankers struck in suspected attacks in Gulf of Oman

The United States blamed Iran for attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday that drove up oil prices and raised concerns about a new U.S.-Iranian confrontation, but Tehran bluntly denied the allegation. 

"We're making sure that General McKenzie and the central command has the resources and the support that they need to conduct their missions," acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said.

Iran said Friday that it was wrong of the U.S. to blame Tehran for the attacks. "These accusations are alarming," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said, adding that blaming Iran for Thursday's attacks was "convenient" for U.S. officials. 

It was not immediately clear what befell the Norwegian-owned Front Altair or the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous, which both experienced explosions, forcing crews to abandon ship and leave the vessels adrift in waters between Gulf Arab states and Iran.

One source said the blast on the Front Altair, which caught fire and sent a huge plume of smoke into the air, may have been caused by a magnetic mine. The firm that chartered the Kokuka Courageous tanker said it was hit by a suspected torpedo, but a person with knowledge of the matter said torpedoes were not used.

On Thursday night, U.S. Central Command spokesman Bill Urban released a video of what the U.S. military said was an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp Gashti Class patrol boat approaching the Kokuka Courageous at 4:10 P.M. local time "and was observed and recorded removing (an) unexploded limpet mine from the M/T Kokuka Courageous." 

The U.S. military's Central Command also released photographs showing the apparent mine, which attaches to the side of a ship magnetically, before it was removed later in the day. 

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.

Crude oil prices spiked more than 4% after the attacks near the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial shipping artery for Saudi Arabia and other Gulf energy producers. Prices later settled about 2% higher. Brent crude was down by 0.4% at $61.06 a barrel in early Asia trading.