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WASHINGTON – The Navy is prepared to aid a Saudi ship attacked Monday off the western coast of Yemen, a U.S. defense official at the Pentagon said.

The defense official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, confirmed a video circulating of a military ship that appeared to be struck and explode in flames was a Saudi vessel attacked off the Yemen coast. A video of the strike was distributed Monday on You Tube. Early news reports suggested the Saudi frigate was hit by Iran-backed Houthi fighters who control the western region of Yemen, including the capital of Sanaa.

Navy assets “stand ready to assist” the Saudi ship, he said.

The defense official said the attack occurred early Monday, Eastern Standard Time, and did not appear to be caused by a small boat laden with explosives, as had been previously reported. The official would not confirm whether the Saudi ship had been hit by a missile.

If the Saudi ship was hit by a missile, the attack would be very similar to an attempted attack in October on the USS Mason, a destroyer, in the same area off Yemen’s west coast.

Cruise missiles were fired in two separate attacks at the USS Mason and two other U.S. ships. At the time of the attacks, the ships were traveling through the Bab el Mandeb strait, which connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden. The United States had supported a Saudi-led air campaign against the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The United States responded to the attacks, firing missiles to destroy three known Houthi-controlled radar sites.

Copp.tara@stripes.com Twitter@TaraCopp

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