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Thursday , August 13 2020

“UNDENIABLE” evidence of Iranian involvement in Saudi oil facilities attack

Saudi military spokesman Col. Turki al-Malki displays what he describes as an Iranian cruise missile and drones used in an attack this weekend that targeted the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry, during a press conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

RIYADH/DUBAI, Sept 18, (Agencies): Saudi Arabia on Wednesday displayed remnants of what it described as Iranian drones and cruise missiles used in an attack on Saudi oil facilities, saying they were “undeniable” evidence of Iranian aggression. A total of 25 drones and missiles were launched at two oil plants in last weekend’s strikes, including Iranian Delta Wing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and “Ya Ali” cruise missiles, Defence Ministry spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said.

“The attack was launched from the north and unquestionably sponsored by Iran,” he told a news conference. “The evidence … that you have seen in front of you, makes this undeniable.” Authorities were still working to determine the exact launch point, Malki said, repeatedly declining to answer reporters questions about whether Iran actually carried out the attack. Iran has denied any involvement in the assault that initially halved Saudi Arabia’s oil production.

An adviser to Iran’s president tweeted that the press conference proved Saudi Arabia “knows nothing”. Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement, which has been battling a Saudi-led military coalition, has claimed responsibility for the strikes.

On Wednesday, the group gave details of the type of drones it said were used in the Sept 14 attack and warned that the United Arab Emirates was also in its sights. Malki reiterated that the attack could not have come from Yemen, south of Saudi Arabia, and that the Houthis were “covering up” for Iran. “The precision impact of the cruise missile indicate advanced capability beyond Iran proxy capacity,” he said.

“The targeting direction of the site indicate north to south direction of travel.” Eighteen drones and three missiles were launched at Abqaiq, home to the world’s largest oil processing facility, but the missiles “fell short”, Malki said. He said four missiles targeted Khurais, adding that the Ya Ali missiles have a range of 700 kms and have been used by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saria reiterated that the movement had carried out the strike, saying it possessed new drones, powered by normal and jet engines, that could reach targets deep inside the “enemy”.

The group had launched “Samad 3”, “Qassef 3”, jet-powered and other drones, including some carrying bombs, at the Saudi oil plants from three sites, he said in a televised speech. “Today and for the first time we announce that we have dozens of targets within our range in the UAE, some are in Abu Dhabi and can be attacked at any time,” he said.

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he ordered a major increase in sanctions on Iran as Saudi Arabia displayed remnants of drones and missiles it said Tehran used in a crippling weekend attack on its oil facilities.

Trump gave no explanation in a brief Twitter posting announcing the order, but the initiative follows repeated US assertions that the Islamic Republic was behind Saturday’s attack on the Kingdom, a close US ally. “I have just instructed the Secretary of the Treasury to substantially increase sanctions on the country of Iran!,” he wrote.

Iran, however, again denied involvement in the Sept 14 raids, which hit the world’s biggest crude processing facility and initially knocked out half of Saudi production. “They want to impose maximum … pressure on Iran through slander,” Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said. “We don’t want confl ict in the region … Who started the conflict?” he added, blaming Washington and its Gulf allies for the war in Yemen. Yemen’s Houthi movement, an ally of Iran battling a Western- backed, Saudi-led coalition for more than four years, has claimed responsibility and said it used drones to assault state oil company Aramco’s sites. Trump has said he does not want war and is coordinating with Gulf and European states. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said the hit on the world’s biggest crude exporter was a “real test of the global will” to confront subversion of the international order.

His envoy to London, Prince Khalid bin Bander, told the BBC the attack was “almost certainly” Iranian-backed, however: “We’re trying not to react too quickly because the last thing we need is more conflict in the region.” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was to meet Prince Mohammed in Jeddah on Wednesday to discuss the crisis before heading to the United Arab Emirates. UN officials monitoring sanctions on Iran and Yemen were also heading to Saudi Arabia to investigate. France, which is trying to salvage an international nuclear deal with Iran that Washington quit last year, said it wanted to establish the facts before reacting.

A US official told Reuters the strikes originated in southwestern Iran. Three officials said they involved cruise missiles and drones, indicating a higher degree of complexity and sophistication than initially thought. The officials did not provide evidence or explain what US intelligence they were using for evaluating the attack, which cut 5 percent of global production.

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