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U.S. Navy seizes thousands of Chinese and Russian weapons in Arabian Sea likely bound for Yemen

The U.S. Navy has seized an arms shipment of thousands of illicit assault weapons, machines guns and sniper rifles hidden aboard a ship in the Arabian Sea likely headed for Yemen, officials have said. 

The U.S. fifth fleet, based in Bahrain, announced on Sunday that the guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey discovered the weapons aboard a stateless dhow - a traditional Mideast sailing ship - in an operation that began Thursday in the northern reaches of the Arabian Sea off Oman and Pakistan.

An American defense official said the weapons resembled previous shipments which have been intercepted that were bound for Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The Navy's initial investigation found the vessel came from Iran, AP reported. 

Iran's mission to the U.N. did not immediately respond to AP's request for comment on the seizure but Tehran has denied providing rebels with weapons in the past.   

The Navy seized nearly 3,000 Chinese Type 56 assault rifles, a variant of the Kalashnikov. They also recovered hundreds of other heavy machine guns and sniper rifles, as well as dozens of advanced, Russian-made anti-tank guided missiles. The shipments also included several hundred rocket-propelled grenade launchers and optical sights for weapons, AP reported. 

Sailors boarded the vessel and found the weapons, most wrapped in green plastic, below deck. 

The U.S Navy laid out thousands of weapons seized from a stateless dhow in the Arabian Sea on the guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey (pictured)

The recent Navy seizure of weapons (pictured) appeared to be among the biggest in recent years as the long- running war in Yemen continues

Among the haul were 3,000 Chinese Type 56 assault rifles, a variant of the Kalashnikov

'The cache of weapons included dozens of advanced Russian-made anti-tank guided missiles, thousands of Chinese Type 56 assault rifles, and hundreds of PKM machine guns, sniper rifles and rocket-propelled grenades launchers,' the U.S Fifth Fleet said in a statement. 

'After all illicit cargo was removed, the dhow was assessed for seaworthiness, and after questioning, its crew was provided food and water before being released,' the Navy added. 

This recent seizure appeared to be among the biggest in recent years as the long- running war in Yemen continues. 

The Navy's Mideast-based Fifth Fleet said they are investigating the weapons origin and destination. 

'The unique blend of materiel recovered by the USS Monterey appears to be consistent with the materiel from previous interdictions, which have been linked to Iran,' Tim Michetti, an investigative researcher who studies the illicit weapon trade, told AP.

The Navy recovered thousands of weapons, most wrapped in green plastic, when they boarded a dhow in the Arabian sea

Sailors boarded the vessel and found the weapons, most wrapped in green plastic, below deck

Members of the Navy's Mideast-based Fifth Fleet (pictured) discovered the cache of illicit weapons during an operation that began Thursday in the northern reaches of the Arabian Sea off Oman and Pakistan

The U.S. Navy found thousands of illicit Chinese and Russian weapons on a stateless dhow in the Arabian Sea (pictured) that they believe was bound to Yemen

 The Navy's Mideast-based Fifth Fleet said they are investigating the source of the illicit weapons seized during an operation (pictured) earlier this week 

Yemen´s war began in September 2014, when the Houthis seized Sanaa and began a march south to try to seize the entire country. 

Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates and other countries, entered the war alongside Yemen´s internationally recognized government in March 2015. 

Iran backed the Houthis, who harass Saudi Arabia with missile fire and drone attacks, AP reported. 

The war has killed some 130,000 people, including over 13,000 civilians slain in targeted attacks, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Project.

Since 2015, the U.N. Security Council has imposed an arms embargo on the Houthis. Despite that, U.N. experts warn 'an increasing body of evidence suggests that individuals or entities in the Islamic Republic of Iran supply significant volumes of weapons and components to the Houthis.'

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