US fears repeat of USS Cole suicide attack

2012-07-16 23:14
Emirati police and other officials inspect a boat docked in a fishing harbour in the Jumeirah district of Dubai. (Almoutasim Almaskery, AP)

Emirati police and other officials inspect a boat docked in a fishing harbour in the Jumeirah district of Dubai. (Almoutasim Almaskery, AP)

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Dubai - An Indian fisherman was killed and three others were wounded on Monday when a US navy ship fired at their small boat off Dubai in the tense waters of the southern Gulf, officials said.

US defence officials said the motorboat had ignored warnings not to approach the refuelling ship USNS Rappahannock, and that sailors on board the American vessel feared it could pose a threat.

"Since 2000, we've been very concerned about small boats," a defence official in Washington told AFP, referring to the year of a deadly suicide bomb attack against the destroyer USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden.

A United Arab Emirates official said one fisherman was killed and three other Indians were wounded.

"The services concerned are now investigating this incident," foreign ministry official Tareq Amed al-Hidan said, quoted by state news agency WAM.

A statement from the US Fifth Fleet, which is based in Bahrain and on alert for possible Iranian action in Gulf waters, said the crew had opened fire as a last resort.

"An embarked security team aboard a US navy vessel fired upon a small motor vessel after it disregarded warnings and rapidly approached the US ship near Jebel Ali," it said, referring to an Emirati port city.

"The USNS Rappahannock used a series of non-lethal, preplanned responses to warn the vessel before resorting to lethal force," it said.

"The US crew repeatedly attempted to warn the vessel's operators to turn away from their deliberate approach," it added.

"When those efforts failed to deter the approaching vessel, the security team on the Rappahannock fired rounds from a .50-calibre machine gun."

Provocative act

According to AP, the boat appeared to be a civilian vessel about 9m long and powered by three outboard motors. It had no obvious military markings.

The boats are used for fishing in the region, though Iran's Revolutionary Guard also employs relatively small, fast-moving craft in the Gulf.

US military vessels routinely cross paths with Iranian ships in international waters in the Gulf without incident, but speed boats from Iran's Revolutionary Guard have passed close to US ships in incidents that have raised alarm in Washington.

In early 2008, then President Bush accused Iran of a "provocative act" after five small Iranian craft buzzed around the destroyer USS Hopper.

Theodore Karasik, a security expert at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, did not rule out Iranian involvement.

"There are certain factions within the Iranian political universe who are seeking a fight. And this is one way in which to do it," he said.

Karasik noted there have been no known attacks so close to Jebel Ali, which is seen as a secure port in the region.

He suggested that the attack might have been a way for Iranian forces to test US defences, though he acknowledged it was too early to know for sure.

Beefing up forces

The US navy has been building up its forces in the oil-rich region amid mounting tensions with Iran over its controversial nuclear programme, AFP reported

Tehran has warned it could close the Strait of Hormuz in the southern Gulf if international sanctions begin to bite, potentially disrupting shipping and world oil supplies through the strategic waterway.

Washington has deployed two aircraft carriers to the region - the USS Abraham Lincoln and the USS Enterprise - and doubled its minesweeper fleet in the area from four to eight ships on 23 June.

And on Monday, the Pentagon confirmed that it had brought forward the deployment off a third strike group, led by the carrier USS John-Stennis, by four months in order to further bolster its presence.

The deployment aims to warn off Iran over its threats to mine the narrow strait through which about a fifth of the world's traded oil passes.

In October 2000, 17 US sailors were killed when militants in an explosives-laden skiff blew a 10m-by-10-m hole in the USS Cole in Aden.

Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack.
Read more on:    us  |  iran  |  dubai  |  maritime  |  security

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