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Prankster linked to US-Iran incident

Published: 8:00AM Tuesday January 15, 2008 Source: Reuters

A radio prankster may have broadcast the threat against US ships that brought the United States and Iran close to confrontation in the Strait of Hormuz last week, a newspaper that covers the US Navy said.
   
The weekly Navy Times quoted US Navy officers in the Gulf as saying the message may have been broadcast by "Filipino Monkey", a notorious radio heckler whose voice has been heard for years in the area.
   
The male voice, in accented English, said "I am coming to you...You will explode after...minutes."
   
According to a soundtrack and video released by the Pentagon, the threat was made as five small Iranian speedboats maneuvered around three US warships on January 6 as they passed through the Strait, a vital route for world oil shipments.
   
Tehran has described the encounter as normal and said its boats were merely trying to identify the US vessels.
   
"Filipino Monkey" is famous in the Gulf for listening to ship-to-ship radio traffic and then jumping in with insults and epithets, said Navy Times, which is published by Gannett Co Inc.
   
The Navy had no immediate comment on the newspaper report.
   
US officials initially said they believed the threatening audio message came from one of the Iranian boats but have since said they are not certain of its origin.
   
The incident, in which the Navy said one ship came close to firing on an Iranian boat, drew public condemnation from President George Bush and a formal US protest, further straining ties between the two countries.
   
Washington and Tehran are at odds over a range of issues from Tehran's nuclear program to its support for Shi'ite militia in Iraq and for militant groups elsewhere in the Middle East.