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Investigators from the United Arab Emirates have determined that a Japanese oil tanker damaged in the Straits of Hormuz last month was struck by an explosive-filled boat in an act of terrorism. “A responsible source at the UAE Coast Guard said that investigations and an examination carried out by specialised teams had confirmed that the tanker had been the subject of a terrorist attack,” according to official UAE news agency WAM.

 

The report came after an Al-Qaeda-linked group, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, claimed responsibility on its website for the suicide attack. The M Star oil tanker, filled with 270,000 tons of oil, was damaged on 28 July in the Strait of Hormuz after heading from the UAE port of Das Island to Japan.

 

The Al-Qaeda-linked Brigades carried a photo on its website “of the purported bomber pointing to a photograph of a tanker on a laptop,” according to AP reports. “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.’”

 

August 23, 2010

 

 

Analysis and Forecast: Increasing Risk

 

Political Capital has previously predicated that the attack is likely to have come from Iran or Al Qaeda. It appears certain now that the attacker was a suicide bomber. Whilst no further information was given, he is likely to have departed from UAE or Omani territory on the western bank of the Strait. This reflects a very serious escalation as it indicates that Al Qaeda are becoming active in this part of the Gulf, which has hitherto been able to fend off the Al Qaeda threat. The ability of the bomber to successfully detonate his target indicates increased sophistication and willingness by Al Qaeda to inflict damage. This carries two implications:

  1. Al Qaeda may start targeting the Strait of Hormuz, through which over 40 percent of the world oil supplies pass;
  2. If Al Qaeda’s capabilities and willingness to open a front in the region are indeed enhanced as this attack implies, there will be an increased threat against targets in the GCC. While the GCC security forces have traditionally been able to ensure such threats do not materialize, an increase in the threat level will put further pressure on those states, particularly on Western assets.