* Yemen says Iranian arms included Katyusha, Strella
* Say arms destined for Shi'ite Muslim Houthi rebels
* Shipment is likely to further strain Iranian-Yemeni ties
(Adds that incident raised at U.N. Security Council)
By Mohammed Ghobari
SANAA, Feb 7 Yemen's president has asked his
Iranian counterpart to stop backing armed groups on its soil
after coastguards seized a consignment of missiles and rockets
believed sent by the Islamic Republic, a government official
said on Thursday.
Iran has denied any connection to the weapons, found aboard
a vessel off the coast on Jan. 23 in an operation coordinated
with the U.S. Navy.
But government official Abdel-Rashid Abdel Hafez said
President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi had contacted Iran's President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to demand Tehran stop smuggling in weapons.
Hafez gave no further details of the message.
"This is the most dangerous arms shipment being smuggled to
Yemen," Yemeni Deputy Interior Minister Abdel-Rahman Hanash told
Reuters. "It contained anti-aircraft missiles, C4 high
explosives materials which only a few countries in the Middle
Yemen, a majority Sunni Muslim country, said last week the
vessel had been loaded in Iran.
Yemen has complained to the U.N. Security Council and asked
for the weapons shipment to be investigated by the council's
group of experts that monitors compliance with the Iran
sanctions regime. It includes a ban on arms exports, U.N.
special envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, said on Thursday.
The council has imposed four rounds of sanctions on Iran for
refusing to halt its nuclear enrichment program, which the
United States, European Union and their allies suspect is at the
heart of a weapons program. Iran rejects the allegation and
refuses to halt what it says is a peaceful energy program.
"The shipment contains weapons and some of the weapons are
sophisticated weapons, surface to air missiles, for example. The
government made a request to the sanctions committee for a full
investigation," Benomar told reporters.
"They (the sanctions committee) will establish the facts on
what happened, where the shipment came from, who were the
recipients, et cetera," he said.
The 15-member council is also discussing whether to issue a
U.S.-drafted statement on the weapons shipment.
Officials in Washington have said the shipment was believed
to have been from Shi'ite Muslim Iran and destined for
insurgents, likely to be Shi'ite Houthis mainly based in
Yemeni state television on Wednesday showed Interior
Minister Abdul Qader Qahtan and National Security Board head Ali
al-Ahmadi inspecting the weapons including 122 mm Katyusha
rockets, anti-aircraft Strella 1 and 2 missiles, RPG launchers,
explosives materials and Iranian-made night vision goggles.
Hanash said that while the investigation into the shipment
was still under way, it was certain that the weapons were
destined for an insurgent group. He did not name the group.
A source at Hadi's office said the arms were destined for
The discovery of the shipment will likely further sour ties
between Tehran and Sanaa, already strained over charges that
Iran was working with separatists in the south and Houthi rebels
in the north to further destabilise Yemen as it tries to rebuild
after two years of political upheaval.
Yemen said in July it had rounded up a spy ring led by a
former commander in Iran's Revolutionary Guard, according to the
state news agency Saba.
Washington also believes Iran was working with Yemeni
insurgents to expand its influence at the expense of Yemen's
Gulf Arab neighbours, according to comments by the U.S. envoy to
Sanaa published in the pan-Arab al-Hayat newspaper last year.
Iran has denied interfering in Yemen, a U.S. ally in its
fight against al Qaeda militants.
The Houthi movement, named after the tribe of its leader,
says it represents the claims of Zaydi Shi'ite Muslims who ruled
Yemen for more than 1,000 years. Most Iranians follow a
different Shi'ite sect but Yemeni officials say Houthis have
travelled to Iran's seminary city of Qom for indoctrination.
Houthis have survived repeated government attempts to crush
them. They fought a brief war with Saudi Arabia in 2009 after
their conflict with Yemeni forces spilled across the border.
(Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols and Louis Charbonneau
at the United Nations, Writing by Sami Aboudi, Editing by
William Maclean and Xavier Briand)