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Saturday
Jul202019

Iran seizes British, Liberian oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz

iStock(TEHRAN) -- Iran's paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps have seized a British-flagged and a Liberian-flagged oil tanker traveling through the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday, Britain's foreign secretary said, in what appeared to be a significant new escalation between Tehran and Western countries.

Late Friday, a management company for the Liberian tanker, Mesdar announced in a statement that "the armed guards have left and the vessel is free to continue the voyage. All crew are safe and well."

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a statement he was "extremely concerned by the seizure of two naval vessels by Iranian authorities."

Iran's State TV said on Saturday that the British tanker was seized after it collided with a fishing vessel and ignored calls from the smaller craft.

Late Friday evening, following meetings in Washington, D.C., with more than 60 foreign ambassadors, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) announced a U.S.-led maritime security initiative dubbed Operation Sentinel "to increase surveillance of and security in key waterways in the Middle East to ensure freedom of navigation in light of recent events in the Arabian Gulf region."

The initiative, according to CENTCOM, "will nations to provide escort to their flagged vessels while taking advantage of the cooperation of participating nations for coordination and enhanced maritime domain awareness and surveillance." The statement does not specify the nations that have joined the coalition.

The British tanker, the Stena Impero, was crossing through the strait when it abruptly changed course and headed north towards Iran's Qeshm Island, ship tracking sites showed.

That tanker's owner and management companies issued a statement that the ship was "approached by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter" while in international waters. "We are presently unable to contact the vessel which is now heading north towards Iran," the companies, Stena Bulk and Northern Marine Management, said in the statement.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) said that its forces had seized the Stena Impero "due to non-compliance with international maritime law and regulations," according to a statement carried by Iranian state news agencies. The tanker had been guided to shore and was already in port, the statement said.

The U.K. government has convened an emergency session of COBRA, its crisis committee, a senior U.K. official told ABC News, speaking on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to comment publicly. Hunt confirmed that he was attending the meeting to review "what we know and what we can do to swiftly secure the release of the two vessels."

There were 23 crew aboard the Stena Impero, according to the statement from its owner, and currently there are no reports that any have suffered injury. Hunt said both vessels had crews comprised of a "range of nationalities," but noted there were no British citizens on board either ship.

The seizure comes less than a month after the U.K. seized an Iranian oil tanker off the coast of Gibraltar, accusing it of violating European Union sanctions by trying to ship oil to Syria.

Iran has repeatedly vowed retaliation since then and last week a British warship intervened to chase away Iranian small boats that approached another British tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.

Tensions have spiked in the strait again in the past few days after Iran said it had seized another Panamanian flagged tanker on Thursday accused of oil smuggling and the U.S. said it had destroyed an Iranian drone that approached ones of its warships. Iran has denied any of its drones were destroyed.

President Donald Trump said Thursday that the U.S. would be speaking to British officials about the situation and noted that the U.S. doesn’t have many tankers passing through the area.

"We heard that,” Trump told reporters as he departed the White House en route to New Jersey. "The United States has very few tankers going in because we're using our own energy now. We've made a lot of progress over the last two and a half years. So we don't have very many tankers going in, but we have a lot of ships there that are warships, and we'll talk to the U.K."

The government did say a U.S.-flagged ship, the Maersk Chicago, was traveling through the Strait of Hormuz late Friday and was being monitored.

"We have patrol aircraft operating in international airspace monitoring the situation within the Strait of Hormuz," said Lt. Col. Earl Brown, CENTCOM Chief of Media Operations. "U.S. Naval Forces Central Command has been in contact with U.S. ships operating in the area to ensure their safety."

The president noted multiple times that the U.S. and U.K. don’t have a “written agreement,” but that the two countries were strong allies and that "they’ll have a new prime minister soon, which is a good thing."

Later, he said that Iran was “trouble, nothing but trouble.”

The White House National Security Council spokesperson Garrett Marquis said the council is aware of the reports of the tanker's seizure.

"We are aware of reports that Iranian boats seized a British oil tanker," he said. "This is the second time in just over a week the U.K. has been the target of escalatory violence by the Iranian regime. The U.S. will continue to work with our allies and partners to defend our security and interests against Iran’s malign behavior."

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Saturday
Jul202019

Hackers gain access to London police's Twitter account, request release of rapper

iStock(LONDON) -- Hackers gained access to the main account for the London Metropolitan Police on Friday night and began making odd demands, taunting police and even requesting the release of a British rapper.

The account, @metpoliceuk, was hacked just before midnight Greenwich Mean Time, when it began sending out largely nonsensical tweets. Among them were, "What you gonna do call the police?," "We are the police” and "no comment get my lawyer."

The hackers then began advocating for the release of British rapper Digga D from prison. It's not clear the artist is actually in prison currently, but he has been in and out of jail in recent years.

Digga D, who is one of the leading faces of the "drill" genre, released the song "No Diet" to great success in April. The video for the song has over 10.7 million views on YouTube.

He has caused controversy in the U.K. after his group, 1011, was issued a criminal behavior order (CBO) last year, requiring them to run all of their music past Metropolitan Police before release, according to The Guardian. The order has caused arguments over government censorship, with police arguing drill music incites gang violence in London.

The hacked account also proclaimed, without context, "XEON IS THE BEST FIGHTER IN SCOTLAND."

A Scotland Yard superintendent would only say the account, which has more than 1.22 million followers, was "subject to unauthorised access."

Emails linking to bogus press releases calling for Digga D's release were also sent from Scotland Yard's press bureau.

The tweets were deleted without comment on Twitter from the Metropolitan Police. By Saturday morning, the most recent tweet was back to one about destroying guns sent just after noon on Friday.

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Friday
Jul192019

Canadian police investigating 'suspicious' deaths of couple on side of remote highway

iStock(BRITISH COLUMBIA, Canada) --  Authorities in British Columbia, Canada, are desperately looking for answers after the lifeless bodies of a young couple were found on the side of a remote highway.

Chynna Noelle Deese, 24, of Charlotte, North Carolina, and boyfriend Lucas Robertson Fowler, 23, of Australia, were found Monday on Alaska Highway 97, south of Liard Hot Springs, British Columbia, according to the Northern Rockies, Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Authorities said that they considered the deaths "suspicious" and that they believed the killings had occurred between Sunday and Monday. They did not specify the manners of death.

It was not clear if the couple was targeted, authorities said during a news conference Friday.

Authorities said they were looking to speak to anyone who had traveled that stretch of highway from Sunday, 4 p.m., to Monday, 8 a.m.

"Police would especially like to speak with anyone who may have a dashcam video while travelling that area. A vehicle -- an older blue minivan with Alberta plates -- was found at the scene and police would like to speak with anyone who may have seen the vehicle or rendered assistance," authorities said in a release Wednesday.

On Friday, authorities said they were trying to determine if that car belonged to the couple.

Chynna Deese's mother, Sheila Deese, told ABC News that her daughter had worked on farms and hostels all over the world -- including Italy and France -- and had met Fowler while working at a hostel in Croatia.

"Their story is like a love story that you would read about," Sheila Deese said Friday. "This Southern girl meets this wonderful Australian man. They were just so in love and both loved traveling."

Sheila Deese said Fowler was working on a ranch in Canada and Chynna Deese had left July 6 to help him. Since he had two weeks' vacation, he bought a van from his employers and turned it into a camper so that they could travel to national parks, Sheila Deese said. She said the two were traveling on a planned route.

In a Facebook post, Chynna Deese's sister, Kennedy Deese, said the family is "heartbroken."

"They were bright and beautiful souls," she said.

Fowler's family released a statement via the New South Wales Police Force's Facebook page, saying that they were traveling to Canada to bring his body back to Australia.

"We have lost our dear Lucas Fowler, son, brother, grandson and friend in the most terrible of circumstances," the statement reads. "To lose someone so young and vibrant, who was travelling the world and just enjoying life to the full, is devastating."

"To know his beautiful girlfriend, Chynna Deese of Charlotte, North Carolina also lost her life in this violent event is too cruel. All our love and best wishes go to Chynna’s family and friends," the statement said. "Our deepest thanks for all your love and care. At this stage we can only move forward a minute at a time, and those minutes are moving so slowly. Please share this post with all those who may have crossed paths anywhere in the world with these beautiful young people."

Carrie Hawryluk of Fort Nelson, British Columbia, told Canada's Global News that she'd seen a couple who matched the police's description of Deese and Fowler on Sunday. She said the couple and their van were on the side of the road.

"The van hood was up like it had broken down and they were sitting in some lawn chairs in the ditch," she told Global News.

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Friday
Jul192019

Trump says White House is helping rapper ASAP Rocky, who is being held in Sweden without charges

Christian Vierig/Getty Images(STOCKHOLM) -- President Donald Trump spoke out for the first time Friday about the case of rapper A$AP Rocky, who has been held in a Swedish jail for more than two weeks without charges following a street fight.

The president said the White House has been communicating with Sweden and working on the release of the hip-hop star, who will be detained at least until July 25, a judge ruled Friday.

"A$AP Rocky is a situation in Sweden. Sweden's a great country and they're friends of mine, the leadership. And we are going to be calling, we'll be talking to them, we've already started and many, many members of the African-American community have called me -- friends of mine, and said could you help?" Trump told reporters on Friday when asked about the case.

The rapper's unusual case has become a cause celebre, attracting the attention of stars such as Kim Kardashian West, who directly appealed to the president. Trump also revealed that first lady Melania Trump personally appealed to him and asked him to help the rapper.

U.S. State Dept. officials issued a statement acknowledging the court ruling.

"We are aware that the Stockholm District Court announced it has granted until July 25 for prosecutors to complete their investigation in this case," the statement said. "One of the most important tasks of the Department of State and U.S. embassies and consulates abroad is to provide assistance to U.S. citizens who are detained abroad."

A$AP Rocky has been in pre-trial detention since July 2, following a June 30 street fight that broke out in Stockholm. Two other performers who were with the rapper that night, Bladimir Corniel and David Rispers, were also detained.

“We are very disappointed because this is frankly unjust," A$AP Rocky’s Swedish attorney, Sloban Jovicic, told ABC News in a phone interview on Friday. He disputed the prosecution's argument that the rapper could flee the country.

“This is unjust because he is incarcerated because the prosecutor is applying the rule of 'flight right.' There is no risk for flight risk or escape because A$AP would never jeopardize his career, brand, support from his fans, friends and celebrities all over the world," Jovicic said.

A Change.org petition demanding the rapper's release, which has been shared widely by Hollywood stars and artists from all corners of the hip-hop world, has garnered over 600,000 signatures and celebrities from Kardashian West to Justin Bieber have been calling for the rapper's release.

Kardashian West, who has developed a close relationship with the Trump administration through her advocacy for criminal justice reform, confirmed a TMZ report on Thursday that she and her husband, hip-hop star Kanye West, appealed to the president through his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner to help free the rapper. Kardashian West also worked with Trump to help free Alice Johnson, a grandmother who had been serving life on drug charges.

"Thank you @realDonaldTrump , @SecPompeo, Jared Kushner & everyone involved with the efforts to Free ASAP Rocky & his two friends. Your commitment to justice reform is so appreciated," she tweeted.

The State Department announced on Wednesday that Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Carl Risch traveled to Sweden and is in the country currently.

“[A$AP Rocky] knows that celebrities and fans have a petition of support to bring him home he would never jeopardize that. It’s frankly unjust for them to think he would not act responsibly and accordingly in this matter," Jovicic told ABC News.

Regarding the upcoming hearing on July 25 Jovicic said, “We need to be prepared and assume the prosecutor will press charges. We are hoping for justice in a fair trial.”

A$AP Rocky -- whose given name is Rakim Mayers -- is part of the hip-hop collective A$AP Mob, and was in Sweden as part of the European leg of his tour.

The rapper is “suspected of aggravated assault,” according to a press release posted to the website of the Stockholm prosecutor's office. But the rapper's attorney told ABC News that he and his companions were acting in self-defense.

“You have to also see this from his point of view, he came to Sweden to perform for his fans and he was attacked, followed and harassed," Jovicic said on Friday. "My client begged and pleaded with these attackers to stop and he acted in self-defense. And now he is the one in jail. That’s unjust.”

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Friday
Jul192019

German Chancellor Merkel expresses 'solidarity' with freshman lawmakers after Trump attack 

Omer Messinger/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized President Donald's Trump's comments that four Democratic congresswomen should "go back" to where they came from, saying the idea "contradicts America's strength," and expressed "solidarity with the attacked women.”

The chancellor, who made the comments on Friday during her annual press event, said the country's strength is derived from the contributions of people from many backgrounds, and that Trump's comments -- first expressed on Twitter and repeated to his supporters at a campaign rally -- run "counter to this impression."

"This is something that contradicts America's strength,” she said.

Theresa May, the outgoing U.K. prime minister, has also criticized the remarks, saying through a spokesperson they were "completely unacceptable," according to the BBC.

The president targeted four progressive Democrats -- Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.; Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.; Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.; and Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass -- saying they "came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe." Three of the lawmakers were born in the U.S., and Omar came to the U.S. as a refugee as a child.

Omar fired back, calling it a "blatantly racist attack on four duly elected members of the United States House of Representatives, all of whom are women of color.”

Trump then doubled down on the comments -- against Omar, in particular -- at a campaign rally in Greenville, NC, saying: "I said I have a suggestion for the hate-filled extremists who are constantly trying to tear our country down. They never have anything good to say, that's why I say, hey, if they don't like it let them leave. Leave, let them leave."

He looked on as his largely white crowd broke into repeated chants of "Send her back!" Omar, who was born in Somalia, is one of the first two Muslim women in Congress.

On Thursday night, a crowd in Omar's home state of Minnesota greeted her arrival from Washington with the chant, "Welcome home, Ilhan!"

The U.S.-German has shown signs of stress since Trump's ascent to the Oval Office. A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center and Koerber-Stiftung in Germany in late 2018 found that 78% of Germans feel the US-German relationship was bad -- a 17% increase from 2017.

Merkel has held her post since 2005 and has said she will leave office when her current term ends in 2021.

Pressed by reporters about her health after it appeared she was shaking during several recent public appearances, Merkel, who turned 65 this week, brushed aside concerns.

"I hope there is life after my time in office and I would like to lead it in good health," she said.

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Friday
Jul192019

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps seizes British-flagged tanker in Strait of Hormuz

iStock(NEW YORK) -- Iran's paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps said it had seized a British-flagged oil tanker traveling through the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday, in what appeared to be a significant new escalation between Tehran and Western countries.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a statement he was "extremely concerned by the seizure of two naval vessels by Iranian authorities."

The British tanker, the Stena Impero, was crossing through the strait when it abruptly changed course and headed north towards Iran's Qeshm Island, ship tracking sites showed.

The tanker's owner and management companies issued a statement that the ship was "approached by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter" while in international waters. "We are presently unable to contact the vessel which is now heading north towards Iran," the companies, Stena Bulk and Northern Marine Management, said in the statement.

The Liberian tanker seized was not immediately named.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) said that its forces had seized the Stena Impero "due to non-compliance with international maritime law and regulations," according to a statement carried by Iranian state news agencies. The tanker had been guided to shore and was already in port, the statement said.

The UK government has convened an emergency session of COBRA, its crisis committee, a senior UK official told ABC News, speaking on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to comment publicly. Hunt confirmed that he was attending the meeting to review "what we know and what we can do to swiftly secure the release of the two vessels."

There were 23 crew aboard the Stena Impero, according to the statement from its owner, and currently there are no reports that any have suffered injury. Hunt said both vessels had crews comprised of a "range of nationalities," but noted there were no British citizens on board either ship.

The seizure comes less than a month after the UK seized an Iranian oil tanker off the coast of Gibraltar, accusing it of violating European Union sanctions by trying to ship oil to Syria.

Iran has repeatedly vowed retaliation since then and last week a British warship intervened to chase away Iranian small boats that approached another British tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.

Tensions have spiked in the strait again in the past few days after Iran said it had seized another Panamanian flagged tanker on Thursday accused of oil smuggling and the U.S. said it had destroyed an Iranian drone that approached ones of its warships. Iran has denied any of its drones were destroyed.

President Donald Trump said Thursday that the U.S. would be speaking to British officials about the situation and noted that the U.S. doesn’t have many tankers passing through the area.

“We heard that,” Trump told reporters as he departed the White House en route to New Jersey. “The United States has very few tankers going in because we're using our own energy now. We've made a lot of progress over the last two and a half years. So we don't have very many tankers going in, but we have a lot of ships there that are warships, and we'll talk to the UK.”

The president noted multiple times that the U.S. and UK don’t have a “written agreement” but that the two countries were strong allies and that “they’ll have a new prime minister soon, which is a good thing.”

Later, he said that Iran was “trouble, nothing but trouble.”

The White House National Security Council spokesperson Garrett Marquis said the council is aware of the reports of the tanker's seizure.

"We are aware of reports that Iranian boats seized a British oil tanker," he said. "This is the second time in just over a week the UK has been the target of escalatory violence by the Iranian regime. The U.S. will continue to work with our allies and partners to defend our security and interests against Iran’s malign behavior."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Jul192019

Earthquake hits Athens, Greece

KeithBinns/iStock(ATHENS, Greece) -- An earthquake hit Athens, Greece, on Friday, causing strong shaking in the capital city.

The earthquake was a 5.3 magnitude, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, and hit just after 2 p.m. local time.

The mobile phone network went down and there were some power outages reported around the city. The fire department is responding to calls of people trapped in elevators.

Otherwise, there was no reported serious damage or injuries immediately after the quake. The Acropolis Museum remains open, although many people around the city were sent home from work for the day.

It officially hit about 14 miles from Athens, the Euro-Mediterranean Seismological Center said, and lasted just a few seconds.

The last major earthquake to hit Athens was a 6.0 magnitude quake in 1999, which caused extensive damage and killed over 140 people.

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Friday
Jul192019

Study: Parts of Marshall Islands have more radioactivity than Chernobyl, Fukushima

Marshall_Islands/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Parts of the Marshall Islands where the U.S. government carried out nuclear testing are more contaminated with radioactive material than Chernobyl and Fukushima, a new study found.

Researchers from Columbia University located external gamma radiation on nine islands and four atolls on the Marshall Islands, a chain of islands in the central Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and the Philippines, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week.

In addition, soil samples from 11 islands in four of the northern atolls yielded radioactive concentrations, scientists found.

The U.S. military used two of the Marshall Islands' northern atolls, Bikini and Enewetak, for the testing of 67 nuclear weapons between 1946 to 1958, according to the study.

The activity caused "unprecedented environmental contamination" and long-term health effects for the indigenous residents, even beyond the islands where the testing occurred.

People on the islands of Rongelap and Utirik were affected by radioactive fallout that occurred on March 1, 1954, from the first-ever hydrogen test bomb known as Castle Bravo, which was the "largest nuclear test the United States has ever conducted," the study states.

Commack, New York, resident Joe Lofaso, 86, was in his early 20s when he was stationed on Bikini Island in 1954 with the U.S. Air Force and witnessed the detonation of Castle Bravo in the middle of the night, describing the dark sky as it transformed into a sight brighter than daylight.

"It was pitch black outside, and when it detonated, the nighttime turned to the eeriest, brightest day you could ever imagine -- way past normal daylight," he told ABC News. "And then it slowly went back to normal darkness."

Lofaso, who worked as an air traffic controller, said that while he and his colleagues were aware of the nuclear testing, they were not concerned about their health, and the military did not warn them about the possible health effects it may have.

However, when the hydrogen bomb went off, they were required to wear monitors around necks that checked for radiation levels, he said.

Exposure to very high levels of radiation, such as being close to an atomic blast, can cause acute health effects such as skin burns and radiation sickness as well as long-term effects such as cancer and cardiovascular disease, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

At the time, there were no inhabitants on the remote island other than members of the military and contractors, Lofaso said. The local populations were relocated to other atolls in the region before the testing began, according to researchers.

"The military was very concerned about keeping people away from the island," he said, adding that part of his job duties was to record anything they saw, such as fishermen approaching the lagoon.

The concentration of radioactive material is still so high in some areas of the Marshall Islands -- more than 60 years after the testing -- that it is from 10 to 1,000 times higher than portions of the Chernobyl power plant, which exploded in 1986, and the Fukushima power plant, which had a disaster caused by a tsunami and earthquake in 2011, according to researchers.

Some previous residents of the Bikini atoll resettled there in the 1960s after it was declared safe, but they left by 1978, "as it became clear that they were accumulating large exposures to radiation while living on the island," according to the study.

Lofaso has suffered bouts of cancer, including prostate cancer 23 years ago, skin cancers on his face and shoulder and cancer in both of his kidneys, he said, but it is unclear whether it was related to his time in the Marshall Islands. He is now cancer-free, he said.

Several decades ago, Lofaso received a letter from a fellow airman who participated in the operation and contracted cancer, asking him whether he had it as well, he said.

"I never heard from him again," he said.

A medical examination Lofaso underwent after receiving a letter from the Atomic Energy Commission about 30 years ago found that he was OK and radiation-free, he said.

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Friday
Jul192019

11th American to die in Dominican Republic died of 'natural causes,' government says

Family Photo(SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic) -- One of the 11 Americans who have died while visiting the Dominican Republic since June of 2018 died of "natural causes," according to the country's minister of tourism.

Tracy Jerome Jester Jr. of Forsyth, Georgia, died on March 17 after a day of sightseeing while vacationing with his sister at a resort, his mother, Melody Moore, told ABC News last week. The 31-year-old was planning to fly back to the U.S. the next morning but complained of vomiting and breathing problems the day he died, she said.

Jester's autopsy confirms that he died of "natural causes," according to a statement on Wednesday from the Dominican Republic Minister of Tourism Francisco Javier Garcia. His official cause of death was listed as basal bilateral pneumonia, which produced a pleural effusion and acute respiratory insufficiency.

"We extend our sincerest condolences to Mr. Jester’s family," Garcia said.

The U.S. Department of State confirmed Jester's death to ABC News in a statement last week. The name of the resort where Jester stayed was not immediately available.

His body was returned to the U.S. on April 4. Moore said he had lupus and that "respiratory illness" was written on his death certificate, but she has not seen the document.

Because of the other reports of Americans dying in the country, Moore now wants "to know the truth" about Jester's death, Moore said.

The State Department said there was no immediate evidence linking Jester's death to any of the other tourists who have died, and that there has been no "uptick" in American deaths in the Dominican Republic, despite a recent rise in media attention.

Around 2.7 million Americans visit the Dominican Republic every year, Garcia said, adding that an intergovernmental National Tourism Safety Council is being formed to "safeguard the traveling public."

In addition, the government is establishing a multi-lingual tourist center, doubling hotel inspections to ensure strict compliance with food and beverage regulations, as well as environmental standards, and scrutinizing the professional qualifications of doctors and staff at medical offices within hotel facilities, Garcia said.

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Thursday
Jul182019

Trump says US Navy ship destroys Iranian drone in Strait of Hormuz

Lance Cpl. Dalton Swanbeck/11th Marine Expeditionary Unit(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump said that the U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship USS Boxer destroyed an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday that was "threatening the safety of the ship and the ship's crew."

"The Boxer took defense action against the drone which had closed into a very close distance, approximately a thousand yards, ignoring multiple calls to stand down and was threatening the safety of the ship and the ship's crew," Trump said at the White House. "The drone was immediately destroyed."

"This is the latest of many provocative and hostile actions by Iran against vessels operating in international waters," he continued. "The United States reserves the right to defend our personnel, facilities and interests, and calls upon all nations to condemn Iran's attempt to disrupt freedom of navigation and global commerce. I also call on other nations to protect their ships as they go through the Straight of Hormuz and to work with us in the future."

In a statement, chief Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman said the incident occurred at approximately 10 a.m., local time, when the Boxer was in international waters conducting a planned inbound transit of the Strait of Hormuz, adding that the Iranian "fixed wing unmanned aerial system" approached the Boxer and "closed within a threatening range."

A U.S. official told ABC News that it was the Marines of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit that destroyed the Iranian drone using counter-drone jamming equipment.

The Marines from that unit make up several thousand of the approximately 4,500 Marines and U.S. Navy sailors on board the Boxer.

Speaking to reporters at the United Nations in New York City on Thursday, Iran's foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said, "We have no information about losing a drone."

About a fifth of the world's oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz. It was over this strategic waterway where the U.S. said Iran shot down an American drone last month.

The U.S. has also blamed Iran for a June attack on two commercial tankers sailing in international waters in the Gulf of Oman. And Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) said on Thursday it had seized a foreign oil tanker with 12 crew members aboard. Iran accused them of smuggling oil in the Persian Gulf.

The Trump administration has been urging allies to join a maritime security initiative to protect the Strait of Hormuz following these events.

Trump's nominee for defense secretary, Army Secretary Mark Esper, said at his confirmation hearing on Tuesday that the initiative, called Operation Sentinel, would involve "passive patrolling in the Strait Hormuz ... to deter provocative actions by the Iranians or IRGC."

"The goal is to increase maritime domain awareness and surveillance capabilities in the region to dissuade malign action," Kathryn Wheelbarger, a senior Pentagon official who briefed NATO allies this week on the proposal, told Reuters.

The State Department and Pentagon are hosting a pre-planned meeting with foreign ambassadors in Washington on Friday to discuss the initiative.

Esper reiterated on Tuesday that the U.S. wants to get back on a diplomatic track with Iran, saying the administration would meet Iran "anytime, anywhere with no preconditions."

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