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Report: Iran used drones and cruise missiles to attack Saudi oil plants

Iran launched a dozen cruise missiles and around 20 drones in the air attacks targeting two key Saudi oil facilities over the weekend, ABC News reported on Sunday night, citing an unnamed senior official within the Trump administration.

While the attack was claimed by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, ABC cited its source as saying that “the Houthis are claiming credit for something they did not do.”

A US official said that all options, including a military response, were on the table but that no decisions had been made Sunday. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the internal deliberations.

This image provided on Sept. 15, 2019, by the US government and DigitalGlobe and annotated by the source, shows damage to the infrastructure at at Saudi Aramco’s Kuirais oil field in Buqyaq, Saudi Arabia (US government/Digital Globe via AP)

Hours earlier, senior US officials said satellite imagery and other intelligence showed the strike was inconsistent with one launched from Yemen, where Iranian-backed Houthi rebels had claimed responsibility.

The US government produced satellite photos showing what officials said were at least 19 points of impact at two Saudi energy facilities, including damage at the heart of the kingdom’s crucial Abqaiq oil processing plant at Buqayq. Officials said the photos show impacts consistent with the attack coming from the direction of Iran or Iraq, rather than from Yemen to the south.

Iraq denied Sunday that its territory was used for an attack on the kingdom and US officials said a strike from there would be a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty.

This image provided on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, by the U.S. government and DigitalGlobe and annotated by the source, shows damage to the infrastructure at Saudi Aramco’s Abaqaiq oil processing facility in Buqyaq, Saudi Arabia. The drone attack Saturday on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq plant and its Khurais oil field led to the interruption of an estimated 5.7 million barrels of the kingdom’s crude oil production per day, equivalent to more than 5% of the world’s daily supply. (U.S. government/Digital Globe via AP)

The US officials said additional devices, which apparently didn’t reach their targets, were recovered northwest of the facilities and are being jointly analyzed by Saudi and American intelligence. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, did not address whether the drone could have been fired from Yemen, then taken a round-about path, but did not explicitly rule it out.

This image provided on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, by the U.S. government and DigitalGlobe and annotated by the source, shows damage to the infrastructure at Saudi Aramco’s Abaqaiq oil processing facility in Buqyaq, Saudi Arabia. The drone attack Saturday on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq plant and its Khurais oil field led to the interruption of an estimated 5.7 million barrels of the kingdom’s crude oil production per day, equivalent to more than 5% of the world’s daily supply. (U.S. government/Digital Globe via AP)

The attack Saturday on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq plant and its Khurais oil field led to the interruption of an estimated 5.7 million barrels of the kingdom’s crude oil production per day, equivalent to more than 5% of the world’s daily supply. It remained unclear how King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, will respond to an attack targeting the heart of the Saudi oil industry.

Crude oil futures shot up 9.5% to $60 as trading opened Sunday evening in New York, a dramatic increase. A spike in oil prices could have negative effects on the global economy.

Saudi Arabia has promised to fill in the cut in production with its reserves but has not said how long it will take to repair the damage. The Wall Street Journal cited Saudi officials as saying a third of output would be restored on Monday, but a return to full production may take weeks.

Trump said he had approved the release of US strategic petroleum reserves “if needed” to stabilize energy markets. The president said the final amount of the release, if any, would be “sufficient to keep the markets well-supplied.”

US President Donald Trump said on Monday the United States would help its allies despite US energy independence:

“We don’t need Middle Eastern Oil & Gas, & in fact have very few tankers there, but will help our Allies!” Trump wrote in a post on Twitter.

Trump said on Sunday the United States was “locked and loaded” for a potential response to the attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities.

Images from the European Commission’s Sentinel-2 satellite examined by the AP showed black char marks at the heart of the Abqaiq plant on Sunday, marks not seen over the prior month. Identical marks are visible on the US imagery. The Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies in August identified the area with the char marks as the plant’s stabilization area. The center said the area includes “storage tanks and processing and compressor trains – which greatly increases the likelihood of a strike successfully disrupting or destroying its operations.”

Header image: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.