x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Arms ship seized by Yemeni authorities 'en route to Somalia'

United States and Yemeni officials said it was carrying a large cache of weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, which was being smuggled from Iran to insurgents in Yemen.

UNITED NATIONS // An Iranian ship laden with arms seized by Yemeni authorities in January may have been bound for Somalia, according to a confidential report from the United Nations.

Yemeni forces intercepted the ship, the Jihan 1, off Yemen's coast on January 23. United States and Yemeni officials said it was carrying a large cache of weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, which was being smuggled from Iran to insurgents in Yemen.

The confidential report by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, which tracks compliance with security council sanctions, cited Yemeni officials as having said that it was possible that diesel carried aboard the ship could have been intended for shipment to Somalia.

The group raised concerns about the flow of weapons to Islamist Al Shabaab militants since the UN Security Council eased an arms embargo on Somalia's fragile western-backed government earlier this year.

Alireza Miryousefi, a spokesman for Iran's UN mission, rejected the suggestion that Iran could be connected in any way with arms supplies to Al Shabaab as "baseless allegations and ridiculous fabrications".

The UN mission for Somalia did not respond to a request for comment. But the latest expert report said Yemen was the top source of arms for Somalia, where Al Shabaab remained strong, even though it had been driven out of several cities and towns.

"The military strength of Al Shabaab, with an approximate 5,000-strong force, remains arguably intact, in terms of operational readiness, chain of command, discipline and communication capabilities," the report said. "At present, Al-Shabaab remains the principal threat to peace and security in Somalia."