As part of its larger investigation into an Iranian weapons-smuggling network, the Justice Department filed a forfeiture complaint against a huge cache of ammunition seized by U.S. Central Command forces in December as it was being smuggled from Iran to Yemen.
The defendants in the civil action? 1,063,000 million rounds of 7.62x54mm ammunition, 24,000 rounds of 12.7x99mm ammunition, 6,960 proximity fuses for rocket-propelled grenades, and 800 boxes (more than 4,400 pounds) of RPG propellent.
The forfeiture action, as stated in the complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, arises out of an investigation by Homeland Security Investigations and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service into “an Iranian maritime weapons smuggling network involved in the illicit trafficking of lethal weapons and related munitions and supplies by sanctioned Iranian entities that directly supports military action by the Houthi movement in Yemen and the Iranian regime’s campaign supporting terrorist activities in Yemen and throughout the region.”
CENTCOM seized the ammo from a flagless ship, the Marwan 1, in the Arabian Sea on Dec. 1 after the vessel was stopped by USS Lewis B Puller. The Marwan 1 was manned by 11 Somali nationals, one Kenyan national, and one Pakistani national shepherding the munitions cargo. A manifest on the vessel was partly written in Farsi and a date — Nov. 22, 2022 — was written in the Persian calendar format.
The complaint says the materials are subject to seizure because they’re from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which was designated as a foreign terrorist organization in 2019 and acts “with specific aims to threaten U.S. interests and the national security of the United States.”
CENTCOM said that the Marwan 1, known to have been involved in another alleged weapons smuggling operation to Yemen in August, was off the coast of Iran in the middle of November, where Iranian Navy “boarded the vessel and loaded it with ammunition and explosives, prior to placing oranges, apples, and soft drinks on top of the cargo of munitions as concealment,” the complaint states. The manifest said the vessel departed from Bandar Abbas, a southern port “known to be the location of the main base for the Iranian Navy and the headquarters for the IRGCN.”
The dhow’s travel route was “consistent with previous IRGC smuggling operations to Yemen as indicated in the Panel Reports,” the complaint notes, along with “the transfer of the illicit materials to the dhow, and the manner in which the contraband was concealed with produce goods.” The ammunition and fuses recovered “were of Iranian manufacture and origin.”
Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement that “the Justice Department will be relentless in holding accountable those who break our laws and threaten our national security.”
“This forfeiture action prevents ammunition and dangerous weapons from falling into the wrong hands and highlights the importance of our investigative work to deny criminal and terrorist networks their instruments of violence and destruction,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said. “I am extremely proud of the critical investigative role played by Homeland Security Investigations alongside our law enforcement and Department of Defense partners in a collaborative whole-of-government effort.”