Yemen confirms seized weapons ship is Iranian

Seizure was coordinated with the US navy; weapons thought to be destined for Shi'ite insurgents in Yemen.

Sana Yemen 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Sana Yemen 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
SANAA - Yemen confirmed on Saturday that aship intercepted last month off its coast was an Iranian vesseltrying to smuggle explosives and surface-to-air missiles to thecountry, the state news agency Saba reported.

Officials in Washington said earlier this week that theseizure of the ship on January 23 had been coordinated with theUS Navy and that the intercepted shipment was believed to havebeen from Iran and destined for insurgents, likely to be Shi'iteMuslim Houthi rebels mainly based in northern Yemen.

Saba quoted a source at Yemen's higher security committee assaying the weapons including Russian-designed SAM 2 and SAM 3anti-aircraft missiles, were hidden inside four containersconcealed by a diesel tank with a capacity of 100,000 liters.

"The source said that the ship, with its cargo, was handedover to eight Yemeni crew in Iran to deliver it to the Yemenishores," Saba said.

The agency said the weapons were now being unloaded andsorted and the crew questioned.

"The results will be published after the contents of theship are unloaded and sorted," it added.

Gulf Arab governments and Sunni clerical allies accuseregional Shi'ite Muslim power Iran of backing co-religionistcommunities around the region, and Sanaa has also accused Iranof trying to meddle in Yemeni affairs.

Yemen's President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi snubbed a visitingIranian envoy last year to signal "displeasure" after Sanaa saidit uncovered an Iranian-led spy ring in the capital.

A US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, saidon Monday that the seizure of the ship demonstrates "everpernicious Iranian meddling in other countries in the region".

Iran denies any interference in Yemen's affairs.

Analysts and diplomats believe the Houthis, named aftertheir leaders' family, have turned Yemen into a new front in along struggle between Iran and Western powers and the Arabregimes they support.

Earlier in January, the US envoy to Yemen, GeraldFeierstein, was quoted as accusing Iran of working with southernsecessionists seeking to restore the country that merged withNorth Yemen in 1990. Yemen is also grappling with an al- Qaidainsurgency in the center and south of the country.

Its location flanking top oil producer Saudi Arabia - Iran'sSunni Muslim regional adversary - and major shipping lanes havemade restoring its stability an international priority.

Yemen's government said in a statement issued by the Yemeniembassy in Washington last Monday that the shipment wasintercepted in Yemeni waters, close to the Arabian Sea. It saidYemeni Coast Guard officials boarded the vessel, which flewmultiple flags and had eight Yemeni crew members on board.

"Authorities are continuing to investigate the vessel'sshipping route by analyzing navigation records found on boardthe ship," the statement said.