Thousands of Iran assault rifles bound for Yemen seized: US Navy

Weapons were discovered off the coast of Oman ‘on a route historically used to traffic illicit cargo to the Houthis in Yemen’, Navy says.

Weapons seized by US navy
Thousands of AK-47 assault rifles were reportedly seized from a fishing vessel in international waters off the Gulf of Oman [US Navy via AFP]

The US Navy says it seized more than 2,000 assault rifles from a ship in the Gulf of Oman it believes came from Iran and were bound for Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi rebels.

The cargo was discovered on Friday off the coast of Oman, the Bahrain-based US Fifth Fleet said in a statement on Tuesday, noting the vessel “was crewed by six Yemeni nationals”.

“The illegal flow of weapons from Iran through international waterways has a destabilising effect on the region,” said General Michael Kurilla, CENTCOM commander.

“We are committed to the security and stability of the region and the enforcement of international law. Alongside our partner forces, CENTCOM will deter and interdict this kind of lethal material into the region whether it comes by air, land, or sea.”

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 the Kalashnikov-style rifles individually wrapped in green tarps on board the ship, said Commander Timothy Hawkins, a navy spokesman.

“When we intercepted the vessel, it was on a route historically used to traffic illicit cargo to the Houthis in Yemen,” Hawkins said. “The Yemeni crew corroborated the origin.”

The Yemeni crew, Hawkins added, will be repatriated back to a government-controlled part of Yemen.

There was no immediate response from Iranian officials.

Experts examining photos released by the Navy said the weapons appeared to be Chinese-made T-56 rifles and Russian-made Molot AKS20Us. Type 56 rifles have been found in previously seized weapons caches. Similar green tarping also has been used.

The Iran-backed Houthi rebels took control of the Yemeni capital Sanaa in 2014, prompting a Saudi Arabia-led coalition to intervene the following year.

A United Nations arms embargo has prohibited weapons transfers to the Houthi rebels since 2015.

End of ceasefire

A UN-brokered ceasefire that took effect in April brought a sharp reduction in hostilities. The truce expired in October, though fighting largely remains on hold.

The ceasefire was the longest of the conflict, and diplomatic efforts to renew it continue. The ending of the truce has led to fears the fighting could again escalate.

More than 150,000 people have been killed in Yemen during the conflict, including about 14,500 civilians. The war has also pushed the impoverished nation to the brink of famine.

There have been sporadic attacks since the ceasefire expired, though international negotiators are trying to find a political solution to the war.

Last month, the US Navy said it seized one million rounds of ammunition along with rocket fuses and propellant being smuggled on a fishing trawler from Iran to Yemen.

In November, the Navy found 70 tonnes of a missile fuel component hidden among bags of fertiliser, also allegedly from Iran and bound for Yemen.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies