US Navy says it seized Iran assault rifles bound for Yemen
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The U.S. Navy seized more than 2,100 assault rifles from a ship in the Gulf of Oman that it believes came from Iran and were intended for Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels, a spokesman said Tuesday. of the Navy. It was the latest seizure of weapons suspected of being directed to the Arab world’s poorest country.
The seizure happened last Friday after a team from the USS Chinook, a Cyclone-class coastal patrol boat, boarded a traditional wooden sailing vessel known as a dhow. They discovered Kalashnikov-style rifles individually wrapped in green tarps aboard the ship, said Cmdr. Timothy Hawkins, a spokesman for the Navy’s 5th Fleet based in the Middle East.
Experts reviewing photos released by the Navy later said the weapons appeared to be Chinese-made T-56 rifles and Russian-made Molot AKS20U. Type 56 rifles were found in previously seized weapons warehouses. Similar green tarping was also used.
The Chinook, along with the patrol boat USS Monsoon and the guided-missile destroyer USS The Sullivans, took possession of the weapons. They resembled other assault rifles previously seized by the Navy, suspected of being from Iran and bound for Yemen.
“When we intercepted the vessel, it was on a route historically used to traffic illegal cargo to the Houthis in Yemen,” Hawkins told The Associated Press. “Yemeni crew confirmed origin.”
The Yemeni crew, Hawkins added, will be repatriated to a government-controlled part of Yemen.
A United Nations arms embargo has stopped arms transfers to the Houthis since 2014, when Yemen’s civil war broke out.
Iran has long denied arming the Houthis, although it has transferred rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, rockets and other weaponry to the Yemeni militia using sea routes. Independent experts, Western countries and UN experts have traced the components seized aboard other vessels detained in Iran.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
The Houthis seized Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in September 2014 and forced the internationally recognized government into exile. A Saudi-led coalition, armed with US weaponry and intelligence, entered the war on the side of Yemen’s government-in-exile in March 2015. Years of intractable fighting have pushed the Arab world’s poorest nation on the brink of starvation.
A six-month ceasefire in Yemen’s war, the longest of the conflict, expired in October despite diplomatic efforts to renew it. This has led to fears that fighting could escalate again. More than 150,000 people have been killed in Yemen during the conflict, including over 14,500 civilians.
There have been sporadic attacks since the ceasefire expired, although international negotiators are trying to find a political solution to the war.
In November, the Navy found 70 tons of a rocket fuel component hidden among trash bags, also suspected to be from Iran and destined for Yemen.
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