Doubts as Qaeda group claims Japan tanker blast

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A militant group linked to al Qaeda said that a suicide bomber was responsible for a mystery explosion on a Japanese supertanker a week ago near the Strait of Hormuz but analysts cast doubt on the belated claim.

The crew of Japanese supertanker M.Star reported a blast shortly after midnight last Wednesday, injuring one seaman but causing no oil spill or disruption to shipping in the strategic waterway. The incident sparked theories ranging from a freak wave to a collision with a U.S. nuclear submarine.

Independent verification was not immediately available for the latest claim by a group calling itself the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, posted with a photo of the alleged suicide bomber on a website used by Islamist militants. “The martyrdom-seeking hero Ayyub al-Taishan … blew himself up in the Japanese tanker M.Star,” said the statement.

A group using the same name claimed attacks in Israel last year as well as deadly bombings in the Egyptian resort of Sharm al-Sheikh in 2005 and rocket attacks that missed U.S. warships in Jordan the same year. Analysts say the apparent al Qaeda affiliate based in the Levant and Egypt has a track record of taking responsibility for attacks also claimed by other organisations, reports Reuters.

They said the timing of the claim might be significant, a day after deadly clashes on the Israeli-Lebanese border and two days after rocket fire on Israeli and Jordanian Red Sea ports. “They could be claiming this to try to get the global spotlight to seem bigger than they really are,” said Theodore Karasik, a security analyst at Dubai-based group INEGMA. “They may be trying to make tensions bigger.”

The narrow Strait of Hormuz is gateway to the oil-producing Gulf and handles 40 percent of the world’s seaborne oil. Al Qaeda has threatened to attack shipping there in the past. The cause of the incident, which left the hull caved in on one side, blew off a lifeboat and smashed windows and doors, is being examined by a military specialist hired last week by shipowner Mitsui O.S.K..

SUICIDE CLAIM

The tanker diverted to a port in the United Arab Emirates, where it is being examined.
“So far, there has been nothing special (uncovered),” a Mitsui employee in the Gulf who asked not to be identified told Reuters on Wednesday. Japan’s foreign and transport ministries had no immediate comment. A spokesman for the U.S. Fifth Fleet told Reuters U.S. Navy divers are assisting in the probe. Wednesday’s statement on the al Faloja Islamist website included a photo of the alleged suicide bomber, dressed in an Arab-style white robe and cap, pointing at a picture of a supertanker on a videoscreen.

Fares bin Houzam, a Dubai-based militancy analyst, said it would be odd for an al Qaeda-linked group to post a photo and use this particular website if it were not involved.



He said the claim suggested an attempt at something like the al Qaeda suicide bomb attack on U.S. Navy destroyer USS Cole off Yemen’s coast in 2000 which involved a small boat rigged with explosives. Bordered by Iran, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, the busy Strait is guarded by US and other warships.