The US Justice Department announced on Tuesday that it has seized two large caches of Iranian arms, including 171 surface-to-air missiles and eight anti-tank missiles, destined for Yemen’s Houthi militias.
“The US Navy seized the weapons from two vessels in the Arabian Sea while conducting routine maritime security operations,” said the Justice Department.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) orchestrated the arms shipments, which were destined for the Houthis, it said.
“The US government similarly seized the Iranian petroleum products from four foreign-flagged tankers in or around the Arabian Sea while en route to Venezuela. These actions represent the government’s largest-ever forfeitures of fuel and weapons shipments from Iran,” it added.
The US in the two cases struck a "resounding blow” to the Iranian government and to the criminal networks supporting the IRGC, said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
“The Department of Justice will continue to use all available tools to combat the threats posed by terrorist organizations and all those who seek to harm the United States and its allies.”
“These two cases demonstrate that not only can we disrupt the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ ability to finance its operations through petroleum sales, but we can also thwart its ability to use the proceeds of such sales to arm its terrorist proxies and export terrorism abroad,” said US Attorney Matthew M. Graves for the District of Columbia. “Given our expertise and special statutory authority, the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia is uniquely positioned to support its law enforcement partners in such terrorism cases. We are deeply committed to this mission.”
“The combined efforts of the FBI and our partners to seize missiles and over a million barrels of petroleum demonstrate our commitment to defend against foreign terrorist organizations and enforce US sanctions,” said Assistant Director Alan E. Kohler Jr. of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division. “The Government of Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism has left innocent victims in its wake and its attempts to support regimes dangerous to the United States and our allies will be met with the full force of the law. The FBI has a continued resolve to hold the Government of Iran accountable for its illegal actions, and we urge anyone with information about violations of sanctions on Iran to contact the FBI.”
US Navy Central Command (NAVCENT) seized the weapons from two flagless vessels in the Arabian Sea on Nov. 25, 2019, and Feb. 9, 2020, respectively. The weapons included 171 guided anti-tank missiles, eight surface-to-air missiles, land attack cruise missile components, anti-ship cruise missile components, thermal weapons optics and other components for missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles.
On Aug. 20, 2020, the Justice Department filed a complaint seeking to forfeit the seized weapons in US District Court for the District of Columbia. The complaint alleged that the arms shipments were part of an IRGC trafficking network designed to distribute illicit weapons to the Houthis in Yemen. The court granted the government’s motion for default judgment and entered a final order of forfeiture on Nov. 15. In its opinion, the court found that the government had adequately alleged that the weapons belonged to the IRGC and that the IRGC constitutes an entity engaged in planning or perpetrating a federal crime of terrorism against the US.