* Surface-to-air missiles among weapons intercepted
* Eight Yemenis on board ship at time of Jan. 23 seizure
By Phil Stewart
WASHINGTON, Jan 28 Yemeni forces intercepted a
ship on Jan. 23 carrying a large cache of weapons - including
surface-to-air missiles - that U.S. officials suspect were being
smuggled from Iran and destined for Yemeni insurgents, officials
said on Monday.
Yemen's government said the arms intercepted aboard the ship
off the country's coast also included military grade explosives,
rocket-propelled grenades and bomb-making equipment, according
to a statement by its embassy in Washington.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity,
confirmed the operation was coordinated with the U.S. Navy and
that a Navy destroyer was nearby.
A second official told Reuters the intercepted shipment was
believed to have been from Iran and destined for insurgents,
"This demonstrates the ever pernicious Iranian meddling in
other countries in the region," said the second U.S. official,
who also spoke on condition of anonymity.
Iran denies any interference in Yemen's affairs.
Analysts and diplomats believe that the ascent of the
Houthis, named after their leaders' family, has turned Yemen
into a new front in a long struggle between Iran and Western
powers and the Arab regimes they support.
Gulf Arab governments and Sunni clerical allies accuse Iran
of backing Shi'ite communities around the region, and Sanaa has
also accused Iran of trying to meddle in Yemeni affairs.
Yemen's President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi snubbed a visiting
Iranian envoy last year to signal "displeasure" with Tehran
after Sanaa said it had uncovered an Iranian-led spy ring in the
Earlier this month, the U.S. envoy to Yemen, Gerald
Feierstein, was quoted accusing Iran of working with southern
secessionists. Yemen is also grappling with al Qaeda militants
in the north.
Its location flanking top oil producer Saudi Arabia - Iran's
Sunni Muslim regional adversary - and major shipping lanes have
made restoring its stability an international priority.
Yemen's government said in a statement the shipment was
intercepted in Yemeni waters, close to the Arabian Sea. It said
Yemeni Coast Guard officials boarded the vessel, which flew
multiple flags and had eight Yemeni crew members on board.
"Authorities are continuing to investigate the vessel's
shipping route by analyzing navigation records found on board
the ship," the statement said.
(Editing by Christopher Wilson)