U.S. seizes missile parts bound for Houthis in dramatic night-time raid

The U.S. Justice Department has charged four foreign nationals after U.S. naval forces interdicted a vessel in the Arabian Sea that was transporting suspected Iranian-made advanced conventional weapons, according to a criminal complaint unsealed on Thursday. Two Navy SEALs lost their lives during the interdiction.

Four foreign nationals charged by criminal complaint in Eastern district of Virginia, whilst ten others detained as material witnesses.

The U.S. Central Command Navy forces on the night of January 11 operating from the USS Lewis B. Puller, including Navy SEALs and members of the U.S. Coast Guard maritime security response team East, boarded an unflagged dhow, a small vessel, in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Somalia. The U.S. boarding team encountered 14 individual mariners on the vessel.

During a search of the dhow, the U.S. boarding team allegedly located and seized what is believed to be Iranian-made advanced conventional weaponry.

According to court records, preliminary analysis of the advanced conventional weaponry indicates that it includes critical components for medium range ballistic missiles (MRBM) and anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM), to include a warhead and propulsion and guidance components, as the U.S. Justice Department reports.

The type of weaponry found aboard the dhow is allegedly consistent with the weaponry used by the Houthi rebel forces in recent attacks on merchant ships and U.S. military ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

According to court records, the Navy brought the fourteen mariners aboard the USS Lewis B. Puller after determining the dhow was unsafe and unseaworthy.

On February 11, the United States obtained arrest warrants for four of the mariners who were aboard the dhow. The United States also obtained ten material witness warrants for the remaining individuals aboard the vessel.

The four defendants and eight of the 10 material witnesses made their initial appearances before a U.S. Magistrate Judge in Richmond last Thursday.

“The Justice Department extends our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the two Navy SEALs who lost their lives on January 11th while conducting an operation in the Arabian Sea,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “The charges resulting from that interdiction make clear that the Justice Department will use every legal authority to hold accountable those who facilitate the flow of weapons from Iran to Houthi rebel forces, Hamas, and other groups that endanger the security of the United States and our allies.”

“The flow of missiles and other advanced weaponry from Iran to Houthi rebel forces in Yemen threatens the people and interests of America and our partners in the region,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco.