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Japanese oil tanker attacked by terrorists, says UAE

Japanese oil tanker M. Star was subject last month to a terrorist attack, UAE inspectors said Friday, raising fears of a new campaign targeting global oil interests.

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Mitsui OSK Lines, which owns the tanker, said it had not confirmed the UAE report. A foreign ministry spokesman in Tokyo told the Monitor that the government would wait until the investigation’s findings were made official before deciding its response.

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“There are lots of stories swirling around about a possible cause, so we are being prudent and awaiting the outcome of the official investigation,” the spokesman said.

Terrorists targeting Japan?

If proven true, it would be first the time Al Qaeda or any of its affiliates have targeted Japanese interests.

The organization occasionally threatened to attack Japan after the country sent troops on a humanitarian mission to southern Iraq in 2004. Earlier this year, Japan ended an eight-year naval refueling mission in the Indian Ocean in support of the US-led war in Afghanistan.

The possibility that one of its tankers may have been targeted by terrorists is certain to cause anxiety in Japan, a resource-poor country that gets 90 percent of its oil from the Middle East.

There will likely be general alarm, too, that a terrorist organization may have been able to attack an oil tanker in a strategically vital area patrolled by the US Fifth Fleet and naval forces from other countries. About 40 percent of oil shipped around the world passes through the strait.

In the immediate aftermath of the incident some claimed that the tanker had been hit by a freak wave caused by an earthquake in Iran, or that it had collided with a US submarine.

Mitsui OSK, however, clung to its belief that the ship had been the target of an attack by an “external force,” citing testimony from crewmembers who said they had seen a flash and heard an explosion.

The incident left a large dent in the M. Star’s hull, shattered windows and doors, and blew a lifeboat into the ocean. One member of the crew was slightly injured.

No oil leaked, however, and the vessel was today given permission to continue its journey to the Japanese port of Chiba laden with 2.3 million barrels of crude oil, equivalent to about half of Japan’s oil needs for one day.

Al Qaeda has carried out attacks on oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia; it was also behind a 2002 suicide bombing against a French oil tanker off the coast of Yemen, and the bombing two years earlier of the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden.