Japanese ship blast linked to al-Qa'ida
AN explosive-laden dinghy had struck a Japanese oil tanker in the Persian Gulf, the Emirati state news agency said yesterday. It was the first official confirmation that the incident was an attack.
The report came after an obscure al-Qa'ida-linked group said on Wednesday that one of its suicide bombers had hit the tanker to avenge the plunder of Muslim wealth. If true, the claim by the little-known 'Brigades of Abdullah Azzam' would mark the first time the terror network has attacked the Japanese.
Emirates's WAM news agency yesterday quoted an unnamed government official as saying the investigation revealed traces of homemade explosives on the hull of the tanker.
WAM said investigators believe a small boat with explosives had approached the tanker. It said the explosives find "indicates the tanker was subjected to a terror attack".
There have been conflicting reports about what happened to the M Star supertanker, which was damaged on July 28 in the Strait of Hormuz -- a transit point for about 40pc of tanker-shipped oil worldwide.
A crew member was injured and the vessel sustained a square-shaped dent on the rear side of the hull during the incident. The Marshall Islands-flagged ship, loaded with 270,000 tons of oil, was heading from the petroleum port of Das Island in the United Arab Emirates to the Japanese port of Chiba, outside Tokyo.
Japan's Transport Minister Seiji Maehara said yesterday he had instructed diplomatic channels to confirm WAM's report with Emirati officials.
Japan's official in charge of maritime safety, Hiroaki Sakashita, said the ministry had collected evidence and samples, including residue left on affected parts of the tanker, for its own independent investigation. "First we will analyse everything we obtained before making any judgment."
Even if it were an attack, he added, it was hard to say a Japanese vessel was targeted because, although the ship was owned by a Japanese company, it was carrying a Marshall Island flag.
In its claim posted on militant websites, the al-Qa'ida-linked group carried a photograph of the purported bomber pointing to a photo of a tanker on a laptop.
It said the bomber was a "martyr" -- meaning he had died in the attack. It also said it had delayed the announcement until several group members who were involved in the operation "returned safely to base".
The WAM report said the vessel left the Emirati port of Fujairah yesterday after damage to the hull was fixed.
The Brigades have in the past claimed responsibility for the August 2005 firing of Katyusha rockets that narrowly missed a US amphibious assault ship docked at Jordan's Aqaba Red Sea resort, but killed a Jordanian soldier.
It had also claimed the July and October 2004 bombings at Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik and two other resorts that killed a total of 98 people.
Al-Qa'ida has carried out attacks on oil infrastructure in nearby Saudi Arabia, as well as a 2002 suicide bombing against a French oil tanker off the coast of Yemen, and the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden.