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Weapons cache intercepted off Yemeni coast

Vessel, which was carrying surface-to-air missiles, flew multiple flags and had eight Yemeni crew members

Gulf News

Washington: Yemeni forces intercepted a ship on January 23 carrying a large cache of weapons — including surface-to-air missiles.

Yemen’s government said the arms intercepted aboard the ship off the country’s coast also included military grade explosives, rocket-propelled grenades and bomb-making equipment, according to a statement by its embassy in Washington.

US officials suspect that the weapons were being smuggled from Iran and destined for Yemeni insurgents, officials said on Monday.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the operation was coordinated with the US Navy and that a Navy destroyer was nearby.

Iran denies any interference in Yemen’s affairs.

Analysts and diplomats believe that the ascent of the Houthis, named after their leaders’ family, has turned Yemen into a new front in a long struggle between Iran and Western powers and the Arab regimes they support.

Gulf Arab governments and Sunni clerical allies accuse Iran of backing Shiite communities around the region, and Sana’a has also accused Iran of trying to meddle in Yemeni affairs.

Yemen’s President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi snubbed a visiting Iranian envoy last year to signal “displeasure” with Tehran after Sana’a said it had uncovered an Iranian-led spy ring in the capital.

Earlier this month, the US envoy to Yemen, Gerald Feierstein, was quoted accusing Iran of working with southern secessionists. Yemen is also grappling with Al Qaida militants in the north.

Its location flanking top oil producer Saudi Arabia — Iran’s regional adversary — and major shipping lanes have made restoring its stability an international priority.

Yemen’s government said in a statement the shipment was intercepted in Yemeni waters, close to the Arabian Sea. It said Yemeni Coast Guard officials boarded the vessel, which flew multiple flags and had eight Yemeni crew members on board.

“Authorities are continuing to investigate the vessel’s shipping route by analysing navigation records found on board the ship,” the statement said.