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Britain says it seized advanced weaponry smuggled from Iran

UK says warship intercepted speedboats in the Gulf carrying surface-to-air-missiles and engines for land attack cruise missiles earlier this year
Dozens of packages containing the advanced weaponry were discovered and confiscated to the Montrose, before being take to Britain for technical analysis, the UK's defence ministry said (AFP)

Britain on Thursday said one of its warships on patrol in the Gulf earlier this year seized advanced weaponry being smuggled from Iran towards Yemen, contravening a UN Security Council resolution.

The Iranian foreign ministry rejected Britain’s claim, accusing it of being complicit in the war against Yemen by selling arms to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition which intervened in the country in 2015.

The HMS Montrose intercepted speedboats carrying surface-to-air-missiles and engines for land attack cruise missiles while on routine patrols on two occasions in January and February, the UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.

The speedboats were being operated by smugglers in international waters south of Iran, in the first instance of a UK warship interdicting vessels carrying such sophisticated weapons from the country, it added.

The illicit cargo was spotted by a Wildcat helicopter equipped with sophisticated radar systems launched from the Montrose, according to the MoD.

The second operation on 25 February also involved a United States Navy destroyer, the USS Gridley, which deployed a Seahawk helicopter "to provide critical overwatch", the ministry said.

The seizures were spearheaded by British Royal Marines, who approached the speedboats on two inflatable vessels and secured and searched them, it added.

The dozens of packages containing the advanced weaponry were discovered and confiscated to the Montrose, before being take to Britain for technical analysis.

That found they contained rocket engines for Iranian-produced land attack cruise missiles and surface-to-air missiles, the MoD said.

'Baseless accusations'

In a tweet, quoting its spokesperson Nasser Kanaani, Iran's foreign ministry said: "By continuously selling advanced weapons to the self-proclaimed military coalition against the defenceless people of Yemen, Britain has been a partner in the war and aggression against Yemen, and it is not in a position to make such baseless accusations about the Islamic Republic of Iran and assume a humanitarian face,” the ministry said.

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Therefore, Kanaani said, Britain “does not have the moral authority to make a claim against the Islamic Republic of Iran”.

The type of cruise missiles seized are regularly used by Houthi rebels in Yemen to strike targets in Saudi Arabia, it noted, and were fired into Abu Dhabi in January, killing three civilians.

The MoD added that the shipment contravened UN Security Council resolution 2216, adopted in 2015 to prevent support for the Houthis, AFP reported.

"The UK will continue to work in support of an enduring peace in Yemen and is committed to international maritime security so that commercial shipping can transit safely without threat of disruption," Armed Forces Minister James Heappey added in a statement.

US Central Command spokesperson Colonel Joseph Buccino said in a statement: "This action demonstrates that we will not allow irresponsible and aggressive acts by Iran to go unchecked on land, sea, and air."

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