Iran calls blackout at underground atomic facility ‘nuclear terrorism.’ Israeli outlets blame an Israeli cyberattack.

Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, centrifuge Natanz uranium enrichment facility
This file photo released Nov. 5, 2019, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. The facility lost power Sunday, April 11, 2021, just hours after starting up new advanced centrifuges capable of enriching uranium faster, the latest incident to strike the site amid negotiations over the tattered atomic accord with world powers. Iran on Sunday described the blackout an act of “nuclear terrorism,” raising regional tensions.

  • Iran blames a Sunday blackout at a nuclear facility on “nuclear terrorism.”
  • The country hasn’t assigned blame, but Israeli media has reported an Israeli cyberattack is responsible.
  • The attack comes as US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is in Israel to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, described a Sunday morning blackout at its Natanz uranium enrichment facility as an act of “nuclear terrorism.” The country fell short of assigning blame for the blackout, which occurred while negotiations continue between Iran and US-aligned nations over reinstating the nuclear deal.

Multiple Israeli media outlets, including Haaretz, claimed that the blackout was caused by an Israeli cyberattack on the eve of Israel’s independence day. On Sunday night, embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to security chiefs, such as Mossad head, Yossi Cohen, asking them to “continue in this direction, and to continue to keep the sword of David in your hands.”

If Israel is responsible, the act threatens to continue to heighten regional tensions between Iran and America’s ally. Netanyahu also met with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Sunday along with his Dfeense Minister, Benny Gantz.

The blackout came hours after the facility began to operate new centrifuges that can enrich uranium more quickly.

Salehi did not expand on how the blackouts had affected the atomic facility but said that the country plans to “seriously improve” its nuclear technology while trying to also lift international sanctions. Nuclear spokesperson Behrouz Kamalvandi told Iranian state television that “there was no casualty or damage and there is no particular contamination or problem”

Iran’s nuclear program has seen many previous acts of international sabotage. In July,the Natanz plant experienced a mysterious explosion, and in November, a leading Iranian nuclear scientist was killed by a remote-controlled machine gun. Iran blames Israel for both and is now building a new facility underground, which was targeted in Sunday’s attack.

In 2010, the facility was attacked by the Stuxnet computer virus, destroying centrifuges at the Natanz plant. The virus is widely considered to be created by the US and Israel.

Israeli media reports, such as public broadcaster Kan, said that “experts” assume that Sunday’s attack shut down much of the facility. The reports did not cite their sources for the information.

After the Trump administration withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, Iran has stopped following formal limits on its uranium stockpile, now enriching up to 20% purity. This is still below the 90% purity needed to build weapons.

Iran has long maintained its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Earlier this week, an Iranian cargo ship that was connected to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard off the coast of Yemen was hit by an explosion. Iran has blamed Israel for the blast, which occurred in a hot zone near the conflict between Saudi Arabian forces and the Iranian- aligned Houthis in Yemen. The Wall Street Journal reported that Israeli cover operations are responsible for over a dozen oil tanker attacks in recent years.

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Biden administration curtails drone strikes amid major policy review

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A US Air Force MQ-1B Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), carrying a Hellfire missile lands at a secret air base after flying a mission in the Persian Gulf region on January 7, 2016.

There has been a steep drop in reported drone strikes since President Joe Biden took office, as Insider reported last month. Now The New York Times is reporting why: the new administration is conducting a major policy review that began the day it came into power.

The last administration unleashed the CIA and Pentagon, scrapping rules meant to protect innocent men, women, and children from being killed by unmanned aerial vehicles. It also spent its last few weeks in office escalating in Somalia, conducting a half-dozen attacks in the first half of January alone.

There have been no strikes there since January 20, however.

The Times reported that Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan imposed strict new controls on the use of drones outside of active war zones, requiring the White House to sign off on any such attack.

The new administration is using the pause to review how the military and its intelligence agencies conduct extrajudicial killings. Among considerations: whether or not restore Obama-era rules that limited drone strikes to targets considered an active threat – not just members of a designated terrorist organization – and only when there is “near certainty” that no women or children will be killed.

That is just the sort of review that critics of US foreign policy hoped for when Insider first reported on the apparent lull in drone strikes.

“If there is a pause in air strikes overall, we hope it’s due to a reassessment of the United States’ strategy and a recognition that past strikes have not succeeded in ending attacks by armed groups, but have instead killed and injured thousands of civilians,” Daphne Eviatar, director of the Security With Human Rights program at Amnesty International, said at the time.

It is extremely unlikely, however, that the Biden administration will stop using drones altogether. It is not even certain that it will return to limits on their use that former President Barack Obama imposed in his second term amid an outcry over civilian deaths in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere.

As The Times reported, the chief concern is rolling back the Trump-era expansion of the rules of engagement, with Biden officials discovering that ostensible safeguards for civilians “were sometimes stronger on paper than in reality.”

That resulted in a record-breaking pace of US airstrikes. For example, according to monitoring groups, the US may have bombed Yemen more often during Donald Trump’s four years in office than under all previous US presidents combined.

“I totally changed the rules of engagement,” the last president boasted.

Have a news tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com

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Video captures the moment a missile fired at the capital of Saudi Arabia by Iran-backed fighters is intercepted

Missile
The moment the missile is intercepted.

  • Saudi Arabia said the missile was fired by Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen, and attack drones were aimed at other cities.
  • Houthis said they fired nine drones at “sensitive targets” in Riyadh and six drones at other sites.
  • The barrage came after an Israeli ship in the Gulf of Oman suffered an explosion, for which Iran is suspected.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Video footage captured the moment that Saudi Arabia intercepted a missile fired by Iran-backed fighters.

A Saudi-led military coalition said it intercepted a ballistic missile attack from Yemen on Saturday that was aimed at Riyadh, the Saudi capital.

State news agency SPA reported that Civil Defense Lt Col Mohammed Al-Hammadi said a ballistic missile had been launched towards Riyadh by Houthi fighters in Yemen, who Iran backs.

It reported that the missile was “intercepted and destroyed.”

You can watch the video here:

 

SPA also reported that there were no reported deaths or injuries, with damage done to just one house in the city.

Drones were also aimed at “civilians and civilian objects” targeted at the cities of  Khamis Mushait and Jazan, SPA reported.

Reuters reported that Houthis then said that they had fired nine drones at “sensitive targets” in Riyadh and six drones at military sites in the cities of Abha and Khamis Mushait.

Houthi rebels overthrew Yemen’s government in 2015, igniting a civil war and a devastating humanitarian crisis.

They have previously claimed to have killed hundreds of Saudi troops and drone strikes on Saudi oil fields.

The missile came after an Israeli ship in the Gulf of Oman suffered an explosion earlier this week, with Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz saying that his “initial assessment” was that Iran was responsible.

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Biden administration releases report on Khashoggi’s killing directly implicating Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

MBS
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has faced global condemnation over Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.

  • The Biden administration on Friday released a long-awaited report on Jamal Khashoggi’s killing.
  • The declassified intelligence report directly implicated Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
  • The Trump administration prioritized the US-Saudi relationship and refused to release the report.
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The Biden administration on Friday released a declassified US intelligence report that explicitly implicated Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the brutal killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

“We assess that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” said the report, provided by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

It added: “We base this assessment on the Crown Prince’s control of decisionmaking in the Kingdom, the direct involvement of a key adviser and members of Muhammad bin Salman’s protective detail in the operation, and the Crown Prince’s support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including Khashoggi.”

The report noted that Prince Mohammed since 2017 has had “absolute control” over the kingdom’s security and intelligence organizations, “making it highly unlikely that Saudi officials would have carried out an operation of this nature without the Crown Prince’s authorization.”

“The Crown Prince viewed Khashoggi as a threat to the Kingdom and broadly supported using violent measures if necessary to silence him,” the report said.

The intelligence assessment also named with “high confidence” 21 people who “participated in, ordered, or were otherwise complicit in or responsible for the death of Jamal Khashoggi on behalf of Muhammad bin Salman.” The report said, however, that it was unclear “whether these individuals knew in advance that the operation would result in Khashoggi’s death.”

The names included Saud al-Qahtani, formerly a close advisor to Prince Mohammed who’s been accused of directing the operation behind Khashoggi’s murder. Al-Qahtani was dismissed shortly after the killing.

FILE PHOTO: Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi speaks at an event hosted by Middle East Monitor in London, Britain, September 29, 2018. Middle East Monitor/Handout via REUTERS
Khashoggi at an event hosted by Middle East Monitor in London.

The Trump administration repeatedly defied congressional demands for an unclassified report identifying any current or former Saudi officials responsible for Khashoggi’s death in a Saudi Consulate.

The release of the declassified report on Friday is one sign of how President Joe Biden is drastically altering the dynamic with Riyadh. After Khashoggi’s killing, President Donald Trump defended Prince Mohammed and suggested that “maybe” the Saudi leader had no knowledge of the killing. “The world is a very dangerous place!” Trump said.

As part of this realignment, Biden in early February announced an end to US support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

‘A deliberate, premeditated execution’

In 2019, the UN released a report that also implicated the Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi’s killing, which it described as “a deliberate, premeditated execution, an extrajudicial killing for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible under international human rights law.”

Khashoggi, who once had close ties to the Saudi royal family, was killed and dismembered by agents of his own government in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. His remains have still not been found. Khashoggi had been lured to the consulate to pick up documents necessary to marry his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, a Turkish citizen.

“Assessments of the recordings by intelligence officers in Turkey and other countries suggest that Mr. Khashoggi could have been injected with a sedative and then suffocated using a plastic bag,” the UN report said. Turkish officials have also said that Khashoggi’s body was dismembered with a bone saw.

A Washington Post columnist at the time of his killing, Khashoggi was often critical of the Saudi government.

Khashoggi’s gruesome killing prompted global outrage and sparked bipartisan calls for the US to reevaluate its relationship with Saudi Arabia. Democrats and Republicans alike explicitly accused Prince Mohammed of being behind Khashoggi’s death.

But Trump prioritized preserving the US-Saudi relationship and stood by Prince Mohammed, citing the importance of arms sales. He brushed off the CIA’s conclusion that the Saudi crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s killing.

Trump Saudis
President Donald Trump, holding a chart of military hardware sales, next to Prince Mohammed in the Oval Office on March 20, 2018.

Trump also rejected efforts from congressional lawmakers to end US support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, where a war has fostered the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Trump at one point boasted that he’d shielded Prince Mohammed from congressional retribution over Khashoggi’s killing, the veteran journalist Bob Woodward reported.

Biden snubs MBS as he recalibrates the US-Saudi relationship

The US-Saudi relationship has taken a sharp turn under Biden. Beyond releasing the Khashoggi report and moving to end US involvement in Yemen, the White House recently announced that Biden would speak with King Salman and not Prince Mohammed in official communications. This marked a major diplomatic rebuke of the Saudi crown prince, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, and underscored how serious Biden is about recalibration.

Biden spoke with King Salman for the first time as president on Thursday. A White House readout of the call said Biden “affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law.”

“Together they discussed regional security, including the renewed diplomatic efforts led by the United Nations and the United States to end the war in Yemen, and the U.S. commitment to help Saudi Arabia defend its territory as it faces attacks from Iranian-aligned groups,” the White House said.

The readout did not mention Khashoggi, and it wasn’t clear whether Biden brought up the Saudi journalist’s killing. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider.

Following the release of the report on Friday, the Treasury Department unveiled sanctions on Gen. Ahmed al-Asiri, a former deputy head of the Saudi intelligence services, and the Saudi Rapid Intervention Force over their involvement in Khashoggi’s killing. No sanctions against Prince Mohammed were announced, even though the intelligence assessment said that he approved Khashoggi’s murder and that the RIF answered to him.

A senior administration official said the Biden administration was concerned that sanctioning the crown prince could “rupture” the US-Saudi relationship, Reuters reported.

Read the full ODNI report:

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Explosions rocked airport in Yemen as new Yemeni government arrived from Saudi Arabia, killing at least 25 and injuring dozens more

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  • A huge explosion hit an airport in Aden, Yemen, minutes after a convoy carrying Yemen’s newly-sworn in cabinet government landed from Riyadh.  
  • No group has claimed responsibility for the attack but Yemen’s new government and the Saudi-led coaltion have charged Houthi-rebels with orchestrating the attack.
  • According to the Associated Press, at least 25 people were killed and 110 were wounded in the blast.
  • Many news channels captured the tragic moment live while reporting on the potential for a breakthrough in Yemen’s decade long civil war.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A massive explosion rocked the airport in Aden, Yemen, early Wednesday, minutes after a plane landed from Saudi Arabia carrying members of Yemen’s newly formed cabinet.

According to the Associated Press, at least 25 people were killed and 110 were wounded in the blast.

In scenes broadcast live on several news channels, after the first explosion, civilians and security officers ran away as cameras panned out to the blast, while the politicians scurried away to safety. Images and videos from the blast show chaotic scenes in the aftermath, as well as a smoke and debris-filled airport with bodies strewn around inside terminals.

 

No government officials on the plane were hurt by the blast, per the AP report.

Yemeni Communication Minister Naguib al-Awg, a passenger on the plane, told the AP that the attacks may have been drone attacks, stating there were multiple.

“It would have been a disaster if the plane was bombed,” al-Awg said, claiming that the plane was the target and was scheduled to land earlier.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but Yemen’s government has charged that Iran-backed Houthi rebels targeted the airport with ballistic missiles. Officials reported a second explosion near the presidential palace, where the new cabinet members were transferred after the first attack. 

The announcement and introduction of a revitalized cabinet in Yemen potentially offered a new chance for collaboration between Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and separatists backed by the United Arab Emirates.

Throughout the course of the decade-long humanitarian crisis and war, which has gripped Yemen, Hadi’s government has at times sided with UAE-backed separatists and been supported by a US and Saudi-led military campaign, which has targeted Houthi rebels, who control swaths of Northern Yemen as well as the capital Sanaa. At least 233,000 Yemenis have been killed throughout the war from indirect and direct causes, according to the UN.

Several high-ranking Yemeni officials responded to the attack, as did humanitarian organizations on the ground in Aden, a highly disputed port city.

Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed tweeted that he and his cabinet were unharmed, calling the attacks a “cowardly terrorist act.”

Health Minister Qasem Buhaibuh tweeted that at least 25 people were killed and 110 others were wounded, adding that many were seriously wounded.

Several humanitarian workers and journalists were killed in the blast.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said that three workers were killed in the Aden blast. “This is a tragic day for the ICRC and for the people of Yemen,” said Dominik Stillhart, ICRC’s director of operations.

Yemeni Belqees TV, a Yemeni news channel, said that reporter Adeeb al-Ganabi was killed in the airport blast, and Yemeni Information Minister Moammer al-Iryani added that at least 10 other journalists reporting on the historic arrival were wounded.

The Yemeni prime minister also tweeted a video after the attack, and said his government was in Aden “to stay.” 

After Houthi rebels took over Sanaa in 2014, Aden has largely been Hadi’s base. The plane carrying Yemen’s new cabinet was returning from Riyadh, where they were sworn in last week after striking a deal with the separatists. 

Yemen’s internationally recognized government has largely operated from Riyadh during the war, where cabinet members have been self-exiled.

The UN Secretary-General and several embassies issued statements condemning the attack as well.

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