US officials: US Navy destroyer again targeted by missiles from Yemen

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WASHINGTON, Oct 12 (Reuters) - A U.S. Navy destroyer was targeted on Wednesday in a failed missile attack from territory in Yemen controlled by Iran-aligned Houthi rebels, the second such incident in the past four days, U.S. officials told Reuters.

The USS Mason, which was accompanied by the USS Ponce - an amphibious transport dock - fired defensive salvos in response to the missiles, neither of which hit the ship or caused any damage as it operated north of the Bab al-Mandab Strait, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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The USS Mason, a Guided Missile Destroyer, sails past lower Manhattan to kick off Fleet Week in New York Harbor, May 24, 2006. REUTERS/Peter Foley/File photo
The USS Mason (DDG 87), a guided missile destroyer, arrives at Port Canaveral, Florida, April 4, 2003. REUTERS/Karl Ronstrom/File photo
The USS Mason (DDG 87), a guided missile destroyer, arrives at Port Canaveral, Florida, April 4, 2003. REUTERS/Karl Ronstrom/File photo TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
MEDITERRANEAN SEA - JUNE 16: The guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87), right, and Italian navy destroyer ITNS Andrea Doria (D553) receive alternative fuel during a replenishment-at-sea with the Italian oiler ITNS Etna (A5326). Mason, deployed with the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group, is conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe. (Photo by Rafael Martie/US Navey via Getty Images)
U.S. destroyer USS Mason sails in the Suez canal in Ismailia, Egypt, Saturday, March 12, 2011. Egyptian officials say two U.S. vessels have crossed the Suez Canal on their way to the Mediterranean Sea and closer to the Libyan coast. The nuclear-powered submarine USS Providence and Destroyer USS Mason entered the canal Saturday from the Red Sea. U.S. military officials have ordered warships into the Mediterranean in case they are needed. (AP Photo)

The renewed attempt to target the U.S. Navy destroyer will add pressure on the U.S. military to retaliate, a move that would represent the first direct U.S. military action against Houthis in Yemen's conflict. The Pentagon hinted about possible retaliatory strikes on Tuesday.

SEE EARLIER: US Navy ship targeted in failed missile attack from Yemen

The incidents, along with an Oct. 1 strike on a vessel from the United Arab Emirates, add to questions about safety of passage for military ships around the Bab al-Mandab Strait, one of the world's busiest shipping routes.

The Houthis, who are battling the internationally-recognized government of Yemen President Abd Rabbu Mansour al-Hadi, denied any involvement in the previous attempt to strike the USS Mason or the nearby USS Ponce on Sunday.

But U.S. officials have told Reuters there is growing indications that Houthi rebels, despite those denials, were responsible for Sunday's incident.

The rebels appeared to use small skiffs as spotters to help direct the missile attack on the warship. The United States is also investigating the possibility that a radar station under Houthi control in Yemen might have also "painted" the USS Mason, something that would have helped the Houthi fighters pass along coordinates for a strike, the officials have said.

The Houthis, who are allied to Hadi's predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh, have the support of many army units and control most of the north including the capital Sanaa.

Reuters has learned that the coastal defense cruise missiles used against the USS Mason on Sunday had considerable range, adding to concerns about the kind of heavy weaponry that the Houthis appear willing to employ and some of which U.S. officials believe is supplied by Iran. (Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; Editing by G Crosse and Alistair Bell)

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