Sana’a: A ship loaded with rockets and explosives, which Yemen said it had intercepted last month came, from Iran and the arms were destined for Al Houthi rebels, a security official said on Sunday.

“The boat was heading towards the [Red Sea] port of Al Mukha” and the arms “were destined for the Al Houthi rebels in Sa’ada,” the northern stronghold of the Shiite fighters, the security official said.

Yemeni coast guard in coordination with the US navy last month intercepted the ship in the Arabian Sea.

The vessel “came from Iran and was carrying arms and explosives, among them surface-to-air missiles SAM-2 and SAM-3,” Yemeni state news agency Saba reported on Sunday, adding that the crew of eight Yemeni nationals were being questioned. The weapons were hidden inside four containers concealed by a diesel tank with a capacity of 100,000 litres.

The ship was stopped on January 23 in Yemeni territorial waters and and authorities found it had been flying several flags.

The Al Houthis are Zaidis, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, a minority in mainly Sunni Yemen who, however, form the majority in the mountainous north. From 2004, the Al Houthis fought six wars with central government forces before signing a truce in February 2010. The rebellion claimed thousands of lives.

The government accuses the rebels of being backed by Iran, a charge which the Zaidis deny.

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

A US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said on Monday that the seizure of the ship demonstrates “ever-pernicious Iranian meddling in other countries in the region”.

Iran denies any interference in Yemen’s affairs.

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

Earlier in January, the US envoy to Yemen, Gerald Feierstein, was quoted as accusing Iran of working with southern secessionists seeking to carve out the country that merged with North Yemen in 1990. Yemen is also grappling with an Al Qaida insurgency in the centre and south of the country.

— Reuters & AFP