SANAA - Yemen's president has asked his Iranian counterpart to
stop backing armed groups on its soil after coastguards seized a consignment of
missiles and rockets believed sent by the Islamic Republic, a government
official said on Thursday.
Iran has denied any connection to the weapons,
found aboard a vessel off the coast on January 23 in an operation coordinated with
the US Navy.
But government official Abdel-Rashid Abdel Hafez said
President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi had contacted Iran's President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad, to demand Tehran stop smuggling in weapons.
Hafez gave no
further details of the message.
"This is the most dangerous arms shipment
being smuggled to Yemen," Yemeni Deputy Interior Minister Abdel-Rahman Hanash
"It contained anti-aircraft missiles, C4 high explosives
materials which only a few countries in the Middle East possess." Yemen, a
majority Sunni Muslim country, said last week the vessel had been loaded in
Officials in Washington have said the shipment was believed to have
been from Shi'ite Muslim Iran and destined for insurgents, likely to be Shi'ite
Houthis mainly based in northern Yemen.
Yemeni state television on
Wednesday showed Interior Minister Abdul Qader Qahtan and National Security
Board head Ali al-Ahmadi inspecting the weapons including 122 mm Katyusha
rockets, anti-aircraft Strella 1 and 2 missiles, RPG launchers, explosives
materials and Iranian-made night vision goggles.
Hanash said that while
the investigation into the shipment was still under way, it was certain that the
weapons were destined for an insurgent group. He did not name the
A source at Hadi's office said the arms were destined for Houthi
The discovery of the shipment will likely further
sour ties between Tehran and Sanaa, already strained over charges that Iran was
working with separatists in the south and Houthi rebels in the north to further
destabilise Yemen as it tries to rebuild after two years of political
Yemen said in July it had rounded up a spy ring led by a former
commander in Iran's Revolutionary Guard, according to the state news agency
Washington also believes Iran was working with Yemeni insurgents to
expand its influence at the expense of Yemen's Gulf Arab neighbours, according
to comments by the US envoy to Sanaa published in the pan-Arab al-Hayat
newspaper last year.
Iran has denied interfering in Yemen, a US ally in
its fight against al Qaeda militants.
The Houthi movement, named after
the tribe of its leader, says it represents the claims of Zaydi Shi'ite Muslims
who ruled Yemen for more than 1,000 years. Most Iranians follow a different
Shi'ite sect but Yemeni officials say Houthis have travelled to Iran's seminary
city of Qom for indoctrination.
Houthis have survived repeated government
attempts to crush them. They fought a brief war with Saudi Arabia in 2009 after
their conflict with Yemeni forces spilled across the border.