U.S. Navy officials said Sunday that thousands of weapons including sniper rifles, assault weapons and other guns were seized onboard a ship that was likely bound for an illicit delivery to Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
Navy officials confirmed the seizure of a vessel in the Arabian Sea in a press release Saturday, describing it as a dhow or traditional regional sailing ship. The operation reportedly took place on Thursday.
Those onboard were reportedly allowed to depart after the cargo was seized. They were also provided with food and water by Navy sailors.
“After all illicit cargo was removed, the dhow was assessed for seaworthiness, and after questioning, its crew was provided food and water before being released,” read the news release.
“The cache of weapons included dozens of advanced Russian-made anti-tank guided missiles, thousands of Chinese Type 56 assault rifles, and hundreds of PKM machine guns, sniper rifles and rocket-propelled grenades launchers. Other weapon components included advanced optical sights,” it continued.
A U.S. defense official told The Associated Press in a statement that while nothing was confirmed, the package of weapons appeared similar to others seized from vessels known to have been supplying Houthi rebels in Yemen. The official also added that interviews with crew members of the USS Monterey indicated that they had determined the vessel to have originated in Iran.
Iran is thought to be supporting Houthi rebels in Yemen with weapons and other means as the rebels continue their battle with the Saudi Arabia-supported Yemeni government. The U.S. withdrew support for Saudi-led offensive efforts in the region earlier this year.
An independent researcher briefed on the weapons recovered told the AP in a statement that the package resembled other firearms recovered in previous seizures of vessels from Iran bound for Yemen.
“The unique blend of materiel recovered by the USS Monterey appears to be consistent with the materiel from previous interdictions, which have been linked to Iran,” added Tim Michetti .