Riyadh, Sep 18 (AP/UNB) — Saudi Arabia alleged Wednesday that Iranian cruise missiles and drones attacked the heart of the kingdom's oil industry, showing journalists the remains of the weapons while stopping short of directly accusing Iran of launching the assault. Iran denies being involved and has threatened the U.S. it will retaliate "immediately" if Tehran is targeted over the attack, which was claimed by Yemen's Houthi rebels.
The news conference by Saudi military spokesman Col. Turki al-Malki comes after a summer of heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S. over President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrawing America from Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
While the U.S. has said Iran was behind the attack on Saudi oil installations this weekend, al-Malki made a point not to directly accuse Iran of firing the weapons or launching them from inside of Iranian territory. The kingdom has sought help from international investigators and the United Nations, both lengthening the probe and internationalizing its conclusions.
"The attack was launched from the north and was unquestionably sponsored by Iran," al-Malki told journalists.
By stopping short of saying the missiles were launched from Iran, the kingdom potentially avoids a response that could lead to war among the heavyweight countries of the region and international superpower, the United States. However, not retaliating to the strikes also carries the risk of leaving Saudi Arabia exposed to continued attacks.
The news conference took place with a backdrop of broken and burnt drones and pieces of one cruise missile allegedly collected from the attacks.
Al-Malki described the drones as "delta wing" models, which looked like large triangles. The cruise missile had a small jet engine attached to it, he said.
Eighteen drones and seven cruise missiles were launched in the assault, Al-Malki said, with three missiles failing to make their targets. He said the cruise missiles had a range of 700 kilometers (435 miles), meaning they could not have been fired from inside Yemen. He played surveillance video he said showed a drone coming in from the north.
"This is the kind of weapon the Iranian regime and the Iranian IRGC are using against the civilian object and facilities infrastructure," he said, using an acronym for Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.
Iran sent a note to the U.S. via Swiss diplomats in Tehran on Monday, reiterating that Tehran denies being involved in the Saudi attack, IRNA reported. The Swiss have looked after American interests in Tehran for decades.
"If any action takes place against Iran, the action will be faced by Iran's answer immediately," IRNA quoted the note as saying. It added that Iran's response wouldn't be limited to the source of the threat, suggesting it would inflict damage beyond what it had suffered.
IRNA separately reported Wednesday that Iran's first delegation for the annual U.N. General Assembly meeting had not left Iran because the U.S. has yet to issue them visas. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was to travel to New York on Friday, with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani following Monday, according to the agency. The U.N. meeting had been considered as an opportunity for direct talks between Rouhani and Trump.
As the host of the U.N.'s headquarters, the U.S. is mandated to offer world leaders and diplomats visas to attend meetings there. But as tensions have risen, the U.S. has put increasing restrictions on Iranians like Zarif. Since becoming Iran's president in 2013, Rouhani has spoken each year at the General Assembly.
The U.S. State Department did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday. Trump separately tweeted: "I have just instructed the Secretary of the Treasury to substantially increase Sanctions on the country of Iran!" He did not elaborate, and Treasury officials could not immediately be reached.
Dubai, Sep 15 (AP/UNB) — A leader of Yemen's Houthi rebels says they were able to "exploit vulnerabilities" in Saudi Arabia's air defense system to stage the attack previous day on the kingdom's vital oil installations.
Muhammad al-Bukhaiti told The Associated Press on Sunday that the U.S. allegations that Iran was behind the attack reflected "political bankruptcy" of the administration in Washington.
The drone attack claimed by the Houthis hit the world's largest oil processing facility and a major oil field on Saturday, sparking huge fires at a vulnerable chokepoint for global energy supplies.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has blamed Iran for the attacks and said that here's "no evidence the attacks came from Yemen."
Pompeo said on Saturday that "Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world's energy supply."
Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri has condemned the drone attack on Saudi oil installations, describing it as an escalation that could widen conflicts in the region.
Hariri said in a statement on Sunday that the attack the day before in Saudi Arabia should push the international community to rein in "all the arms of aggression and terrorism that are striking Arab countries."
Hariri said Lebanon stands by Saudi Arabia, adding that the latest "aggression" against the kingdom is part of attacks targeting Gulf Arab states and also undermines regional and international security.
Iran's foreign minister says that blaming Iran for Yemeni rebel attacks on major Saudi oil sites will not end the war in the Arab world's most impoverished country — but that talks might.
Mohammad Javad Zarif also said in a tweet on Sunday that "Having failed at 'max pressure', U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo turning to 'max deceit'."
He also says: "US & its clients are stuck in Yemen because of illusion that weapon superiority will lead to military victory."
Zarif also tweeted: "Blaming Iran won't end disaster. Accepting our April '15 proposal to end war & begin talks may."
Late Saturday, Pompeo directly blamed Iran for the attack on major Saudi oil sites, without offering evidence to support his claim.
Iraq is denying that its country was the site from where Yemeni-rebel drones were launched to attack Saudi oil installations.
The statement came from Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi's office on Sunday.
It says Iraq would act "decisively" if anyone tried to use its territory to attack other countries.
U.S. officials previously alleged at least one recent drone attack on Saudi Arabia came from Iraq, where Iran backs Shiite militias, something denied by Baghdad. Those militias in recent weeks have been targeted themselves by mysterious airstrikes, with at least one believed to have been carried out by Israel.
Iran's Foreign Ministry has dismissed the U.S. accusation that it was behind an attack on Saudi Arabia's oil infrastructure the day before, calling it part of Washington's policy of "maximum lies."
Abbas Mousavi made the statement on Sunday.
He says Washington adopted a 'maximum pressure' policy against Iran but because of "its failure, (the U.S.) is leaning toward 'maximum lies'" now.
Saturday's drone attacks by Iranian-backed Yemeni rebels have halted about half of Saudi oil supplies after hitting the kingdom's biggest oil processing facility and a major oil field.
They set off huge fires and led to a suspension of "production operations" at the Abqaiq facility and the Khurais field.
President Donald Trump called the Saudi crown prince after the attack, expressing U.S. support for the kingdom's security and stability.
Dubai, Sep 14 (AP/UNB) — Drones claimed by Yemen's Houthi rebels attacked the world's largest oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia and a major oilfield operated by Saudi Aramco early Saturday, sparking a huge fire at a processor crucial to global energy supplies.
It wasn't clear if there were any injuries in the attacks in Buqyaq and the Khurais oil field, nor what effect it would have on oil production in the kingdom. The attack also likely will heighten tensions further across the wider Persian Gulf amid a confrontation between the U.S. and Iran over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers. The Houthis are backed by Tehran amid a yearslong Saudi-led war against them in Yemen.
Online videos apparently shot in Buqyaq included the sound of gunfire in the background. Smoke rose over the skyline and glowing flames could be seen a distance away at the Abqaiq oil processing facility.
Saudi state television later aired a segment with a correspondent there as smoke from the blazes clearly rose behind. That smoke also was visible from space.
The fires began after the sites were "targeted by drones," the Interior Ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency. It said an investigation into the attack was underway.
In a short address aired by the Houthi's Al-Masirah satellite news channel, military spokesman Yahia Sarie said the rebels launched 10 drones in their coordinated attack on the sites. He warned attacks by the rebels would only get worse if the war continues.
"The only option for the Saudi government is to stop attacking us," Sarie said.
The U.S. Embassy in Riyadh said it was "unaware of any injuries to American citizens."
Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil giant, did not immediately respond to questions from The Associated Press. The kingdom hopes soon to offer a sliver of the company in an initial public offering.
Saudi Aramco describes its Abqaiq oil processing facility in Buqyaq as "the largest crude oil stabilization plant in the world."
The facility processes sour crude oil into sweet crude, then later transports onto transshipment points on the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. Estimates suggest it can process up to 7 million barrels of crude oil a day.
The plant has been targeted in the past by militants. Al-Qaida-claimed suicide bombers tried but failed to attack the oil complex in February 2006.
The Khurais oil field is believed to produce over 1 million barrels of crude oil a day. It has estimated reserves of over 20 billion barrels of oil, according to Aramco.
There was no immediate impact on global oil prices as markets were closed for the weekend across the world. Benchmark Brent crude had been trading at just above $60 a barrel.
Buqyaq is some 330 kilometers (205 miles) northeast of the Saudi capital, Riyadh.
The Saudi-led coalition has been battling the rebels since March 2015. The Iranian-backed Houthis hold Yemen's capital, Sanaa, and other territory in the Arab world's poorest country.
The war has become the world's worst humanitarian crisis. The violence has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine and killed more than 90,000 people since 2015, according to the U.S.-based Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, or ACLED, which tracks the conflict.
Since the start of the Saudi-led war, Houthi rebels have been using drones in combat. The first appeared to be off-the-shelf, hobby-kit-style drones. Later, versions nearly identical to Iranian models turned up. Iran denies supplying the Houthis with weapons, although the U.N., the West and Gulf Arab nations say Tehran does.
The rebels have flown drones into the radar arrays of Saudi Arabia's Patriot missile batteries, according to Conflict Armament Research, disabling them and allowing the Houthis to fire ballistic missiles into the kingdom unchallenged. The Houthis launched drone attacks targeting Saudi Arabia's crucial East-West Pipeline in May as tensions heightened between Iran and the U.S. In August, Houthi drones struck Saudi Arabia's Shaybah oil field, which produces some 1 million barrels of crude oil a day near its border with the United Arab Emirates.
U.N. investigators said the Houthis' new UAV-X drone, found in recent months during the Saudi-led coalition's war in Yemen, likely has a range of up to 1,500 kilometers (930 miles).
That puts the far reaches of both Saudi Arabia and the UAE in range.
Paris, Sep 12 (AP/UNB) — The only daughter of Saudi Arabia's King Salman has been found guilty by a Paris court of charges that she ordered her bodyguard to detain and strike a plumber for taking photos at the Saudi royal family's apartment in the French capital.
Prosecutors alleged that Princess Hessa bint Salman became enraged when she saw the plumber capturing her image in Paris, fearing the pictures could be used to harm her as the Saudi monarch's daughter and the older half-sister of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
She left France shortly after the September 2016 incident and was not present for Thursday's verdict. She was sentenced to 10 months suspended prison sentence and a 10,000 euro ($10,970) fine.
Her bodyguard, Rani Saida, was found guilty on charges of violence, sequestration and theft.
Tehran, Sep 7 (AP/UNB) — Iran has begun using arrays of advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium in violation of its 2015 nuclear deal, a spokesman said Saturday, warning that Europe has little time left to offer new terms to save the accord.
The comments by Behrouz Kamalvandi of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran signal a further cut into the one year experts estimate Tehran would need to have a enough material for building a nuclear weapon if it chose to pursue one. Iran maintains its program is peaceful.
Iran already has breached the stockpile and enrichment level limits set by the deal, while stressing it could quickly revert back to the terms of the accord if Europe finds a way for it to sell its crude oil abroad despite crushing U.S. sanctions. However, questions likely will grow in Europe over Iran's intentions as satellite photos obtained by The Associated Press on Saturday showed an once-detained oil tanker Tehran reportedly promised wouldn't go to Syria was off its coast.
Tensions between Iran and the U.S. have risen in recent months, with mysterious attacks on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, Iran shooting down a U.S. military surveillance drone, and other incidents across the wider Middle East. Iran separately seized another ship and detained 12 Filipino crewmembers, state television reported Saturday.
"Our stockpile is quickly increasing," Kamalvandi warned in a news conference. "We hope they will come to their senses."
The accord saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for sanctions relief. Among the limitations was a requirement that Iran use only 5,060 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges. A centrifuge is a device that enriches uranium by rapidly spinning uranium hexafluoride gas.
Today, Iran has begun using an array of 20 IR-6 centrifuges and another 20 of IR-4 centrifuges, Kamalvandi said. An IR-6 can produce enriched uranium 10 times as fast as an IR-1, Iranian officials say, while an IR-4 produces five times as fast.
Iran already has increased its enrichment up to 4.5%, above the 3.67% allowed under the deal. Using advanced centrifuges means a shorter time would be needed to push up its enrichment.
Kamalvandi said Iran had the ability to go beyond 20% enrichment of uranium. Experts say 20% is just a short technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90% enrichment.
While Kamalvandi stressed that "the Islamic Republic is not after the bomb," he warned that Iran was running out of ways to stay in the accord.
"If Europeans want to make any decision, they should do it soon," he said.
Kamalvandi also said Iran would allow U.N. inspectors to continue to monitor sites in the country. A top official from the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency was expected to meet with Iranian officials in Tehran on Sunday.
The IAEA said Saturday it was aware of Iran's announcement and "agency inspectors are on the ground in Iran and they will report any relevant activities to IAEA headquarters in Vienna."
Kamalvandi made the remarks in a news conference carried on live television. He spoke from a podium with advanced centrifuges standing next to him.
In Paris, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Iran's announcement wasn't a surprise.
"The Iranians are going to pursue what the Iranians have always intended to pursue," Esper said at a news conference with his French counterpart, Florence Parly.
Meanwhile Saturday, satellite images showed a once-detained Iranian oil tanker pursued by the U.S. appears to be off the coast of Syria, where Tehran reportedly promised the vessel would not go when authorities in Gibraltar agreed to release it several weeks ago. Iran later seized a British-flagged oil tanker which it still holds.
The tanker Adrian Darya-1, formerly known as the Grace-1, turned off its Automatic Identification System late Monday, leading to speculation it would be heading to Syria. Other Iranian oil tankers have similarly turned off their tracking beacons in the area, with analysts saying they believe crude oil ends up in Syria in support of embattled President Bashar Assad's government.
Images obtained by The Associated Press early Saturday from Maxar Technologies appeared to show the vessel off Syria's coast, some 2 nautical miles (3.7 kilometers) off shore under intermittent cloud cover.
Iranian and Syrian officials have not acknowledged the vessel's presence there. There was no immediate report in Iranian state media about the ship, though authorities earlier said the 2.1 million barrels of crude oil onboard had been sold to an unnamed buyer.
The oil on board would be worth about $130 million on the global market, but it remains unclear who would buy the oil as they'd face the threat of U.S. sanctions.
The new images matched a black-and-white image earlier tweeted by John Bolton, the U.S. national security adviser.
"Anyone who said the Adrian Darya-1 wasn't headed to #Syria is in denial," Bolton tweeted. "We can talk, but #Iran's not getting any sanctions relief until it stops lying and spreading terror!"
U.S. prosecutors in federal court allege the Adrian Darya's owner is Iran's Revolutionary Guard, which answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. On Wednesday, the U.S. imposed new sanctions on an oil shipping network it alleged had ties to the Guard and offered up to $15 million for anyone with information that disrupts its paramilitary operations.
Brian Hook, the U.S. special envoy for Iran, also has reportedly emailed or texted captains of Iranian oil tankers, trying to scare them into not delivering their cargo.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Transportation Department's Maritime Administration issued on Saturday a new warning to shippers about a potential threat off the coast of Yemen in the southern Red Sea.
"A maritime threat has been reported in the Red Sea in the vicinity of Yemen," the warning read. "The nature of the event is potential increased hostilities that threaten maritime security."
Large areas of war-torn Yemen are held by the country's Houthi rebels, which are allied to Iran. Shipping in the Red Sea has been targeted previously by rebel attacks. On Wednesday, a warning went out after two small boats followed one ship in the region, but there's been no other information about a new threat there.
Cmdr. Joshua Frey, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy's Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, said the Navy remained ready to maintain the safety of shippers in the region.
Separately Saturday, state TV said Iran seized a tugboat and its crew of 12 Filipinos near the Strait of Hormuz on suspicion of smuggling diesel fuel. The report did not elaborate. Frey said the U.S. Navy was aware of the report, but declined to comment further. In Manila, the Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs said it was checking details of the reported.