NAIROBI, Nov. 10 (Reuters) – Weapons supplied by Iran to its Houthi allies in Yemen have been smuggled across the Gulf of Aden to Somalia, according to a Geneva-based think tank, where insurgents al- Shabab linked to al Qaeda are fighting against a weak and divided government.
The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime said its study relied on data from more than 400 weapons documented in 13 locations across Somalia for eight months and inventories of 13 dhows intercepted by warships.
This is the first publicly available study on the extent of illicit arms smuggling from Yemen to the Horn of Africa country.
“Weapons from the Iran-Yemen arms trade are being smuggled into Somalia itself,” said the study, which is due for release on Wednesday.
“Iran has repeatedly denied any involvement in the Houthi arms smuggling. However, a preponderance of evidence points to an Iranian state supply.”
Iran’s foreign ministry and a spokesperson for Houthi forces in Yemen did not respond to a request for comment on the study. Iran has repeatedly denied any involvement in arms trafficking to its Houthi allies in Yemen, where the six-year-old civil war has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
The Somali government spokesperson and the Minister of Homeland Security did not respond to calls or messages seeking comment.
The study said investigators were unable to fully document buyers and sellers of the weapons.
But he said signs that the weapons were originally supplied by the Iranian state included serial numbers very close to each other, indicating that they were part of the same shipment, information coming from systems satellite navigation of seized dhows and human intelligence from trafficking gangs.
A dhow carrying weapons that was seized by a US Navy vessel had a GPS with points stored in Iran, southern Yemen and Somalia, according to the report, including a small anchorage near the port of Jask, which houses an Iranian naval base, and “home” to the Yemeni port of Mukalla, a well-known arms smuggling hub.
The study says the weapons end up with commercial smuggling networks whose clients may include armed factions seeking an advantage before Somalia’s repeatedly delayed presidential elections, as well as clan militias and rival Islamist insurgent groups. linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
Additional reporting by Abdi Sheikh in Mogadishu and Parisa Hafezi in Dubai and Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai; Editing by Jon Boyle and Nick Tattersall
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