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'We don't take it lightly': What we know about oil tanker blasts and Donald Trump's escalating rhetoric on Iran

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Video purports to show Iran removing ship mine
AP, AP

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump Friday blamed Iran for the attack on two international oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman as he and other administration officials escalated their rhetoric on Tehran.

“Iran did do it,” Trump said during a lengthy phone interview on Fox and Friends. “We don’t take it lightly, that I can tell you.”

The attacks spurred fears of rising tensions in the Middle East and led to a spike in oil prices.

Here’s what we know about the attacks and the fallout:

What happened?

Two tankers reported at dawn Thursday they had been attacked about 25 miles off the southern coast of Iran.

The Front Altair, loaded with the flammable hydrocarbon mixture naphtha from the United Arab Emirates, radioed for help as it caught fire. A short time later, the Kokuka Courageous, loaded with methanol from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, also called for help.

The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet said it received two distress calls and sent the guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge to the scene.

The attack took place as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wrapped up a visit to Tehran aimed at improving relations between Iran and the United States.

Was Iran involved?

No nation or group has claimed responsibility, and Iran denies it was involved in the attack.

But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters on Thursday the attack was the work of Iran. Pompeo said the assessment was based in part on U.S. intelligence, the expertise needed for the operation and other recent incidents in the region, which the U.S. also has blamed on Iran.

In his Fox News interview on Friday, Trump also blamed Iran, which he called “a nation of terror.”

As evidence, he pointed to a video released by the U.S. military that officials say shows Iran’s Revolutionary Guard removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the oil tankers targeted near the Strait of Hormuz. The black-and-white footage suggests the Islamic Republic sought to remove evidence of its involvement from the scene.

The video, as well as still photographs released by the U.S. military’s Central Command on Friday, appeared to show the limpet mine on the Kokuka Courageous.

Tehran previously used mines against oil tankers in 1987 and 1988 in the “Tanker War,” when the U.S. Navy escorted ships through the region.

More: ‘Sporadic’ attacks from Iran could spike oil prices, says US think tank

Other ships have been attacked?

The attack Thursday drew parallels to a similar attack last month off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.

Saudi Arabia said in May that four oil tankers were sabotaged, which caused “significant damage” to the vessels. One of the ships was en route to pick up Saudi oil to take to the U.S.

An investigation blamed explosive sea mines, and Saudi Arabia and the United States blamed Iran. Iran denied involvement, although Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen have launched missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia.

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What does this mean for the Middle East?

The immediate impact was on oil prices, which shot up as much as 4% following the attacks and rose another 1% on Friday.

Long term, the attacks could further escalate tensions with the U.S., which already have been high after the Trump administration pulled out of an international nuclear agreement with Tehran last year.

The Islamic Republic has repeatedly threatened to block traffic in the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for U.S. sanctions on Iran.

But Trump predicted Friday that Iran won’t follow through with that threat.

“They’re not going to be closing it,” he said on Fox. “If it closes, it’s not going to be closed for long. And they know it. And they’ve been told in very strong terms.”

Contributing: John Bacon and The Associated Press.

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