Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Boatload of Iranian Arms Seized off Yemen

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A boatload of Iranian weapons destined for Shiite Zaidi rebels battling the military has been seized in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, a local official said on Monday. The vessel, with a cargo mainly of anti-tank shells, was seized on Sunday off the village of Midi in Hajjah province adjoining Saada, the Yemeni province bordering Saudi Arabia where the fighting is fiercest, the official told AFP. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said five Iranians and an Indian have been arrested and taken to the capital Sanaa, where they are being questioned by police. Another local official told AFP that according to the preliminary results of an inquiry, "the five Iranians are instructors" who had planned to deliver the weapons to rebels "and evacuate wounded Iranians." Sanaa accuses Shiite Iran of backing the rebels, who are also known as Huthis after their late commander. The rebels deny the charge.

Last week Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh accused the rebels of taking money from Iranians and plotting to create a Shiite zone along the Saudi borders. "These are outlaws and terrorists... who are in the pay of foreign forces and execute a foreign agenda," he said, according to the text of a television interview issued on October 19 by state news agency Saba. "Their finances come from certain Iranian dignatories... but we do not accuse the government," Saleh said, citing documents seized and confessions of rebels captured during the fighting. On August 11 the armed forces launched Operation Scorched Earth, aimed at crushing the Zaidi rebels in their Saada region stronghold. Hundreds of people have been killed or wounded in the clashes, and tens of thousands have been forced to flee their homes, resulting in a humanitarian crisis complicated by a dire shortage of food and other basic necessities.