Iran Official Jokes About U.S. Navy Fire, Alludes to Nuclear Site Attack

A senior Iranian official has joked about the "interesting" fire that ravaged a U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship in San Diego, quipping that the incident may be claimed by a supposed domestic dissident group like recent explosions in Iran.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Seyed Abbas Mousavi told reporters Monday that the fire aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard "is not relevant to us." The fire broke on Sunday and spread across the ship, injuring more than 20 people as teams of firefighters sought to bring the blaze under control.

But according to Iran's state-controlled PressTV channel, Mousavi added, "It's interesting how quickly U.S. destroyers catch fire," referring to the Bonhomme Richard, which is capable of carrying a mix of fighter jets and helicopters.

"I have no stance," Mousavi told reporters. "But just search news sources to see if 'American Panthers' have claimed responsibility."

This remark alluded to a series of recent mysterious explosions in Iran that have prompted suggestions of a broad sabotage campaign by a foreign power or a domestic dissident group. One group calling itself the "Homeland Cheetahs" claimed responsibility for an explosion at a sensitive nuclear site in Iran earlier this month.

The explosion occurred at the Natanz nuclear site around 150 miles south of Tehran earlier this month. The incident damaged a uranium enrichment facility where Iran produced centrifuges—needed to expand Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium that could one day be used to create nuclear weapons.

According to The New York Times, the explosion may have set Iran's nuclear "break out time"⁠—the time Iran needs to produce enough weapons-grade enriched uranium for a single nuclear weapon⁠—back several months.

Iran is currently investigating the incident to see if it was an accident or an intentional attack. Intelligence officials with knowledge of the incident told The Times it was most likely caused by a bomb planted at the facility by unknown operatives. Officials also said it could also have been the result of a cyberattack causing a malfunction.

The previously unknown Homeland Cheetahs contacted BBC Persian by email to claim responsibility for the attack, providing in-depth details of the incident soon after it occurred, leading the BBC to suggest that whoever wrote the email likely knew about the explosion in advance.

The Homeland Cheetahs claimed to be made up of dissident Iranian military and security officials and said its operatives had conducted a range of attacks that had so far been covered up by the Iranian government.

BBC noted that the existence of the Homeland Cheetahs and their claim of responsibility for the Natanz explosion could be a hoax or the work of foreign agents posing as domestic dissidents.

The regime in Tehran is now investigating the Natanz incident. Iran's state news agency IRNA already noted that the damage could have been the result of sabotage "by hostile countries, especially the Zionist regime and the U.S."

Mousavi told reporters Monday: "If a regime or a government is involved in the Natanz incident, Iran will react decisively."

USS Bonhomme Richard, Iran, fire, explosion, natanz
Sailors and federal firefighters combat a fire onboard USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego on July 12, 2020. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christina Ross/Getty