4 charged after seizure of suspected Iranian-made weapons in vessel that led to deaths of 2 Navy SEALs: DOJ

The vessel was intercepted by US naval forces in the Arabian Sea last month

Four foreign nationals have been charged after the U.S. Navy interdicted a vessel in the Arabian Sea that was transporting suspected Iranian-made weapons, the U.S. Justice Department said.

Two Navy SEALs died during the intervention.

Assistant Director of the FBI Washington Field Director David Sundberg said that the men's arrest and subsequent charges were intended to "send a message" to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

"Today’s complaint sends a message that acting as a proxy for the IRGC in an effort to bring harm to U.S. persons overseas will not be tolerated by the U.S. Government," Sunburg said.

"Transporting explosive materials intended to be used to threaten and cause harm is yet another example of the IRGC’s disruptive and hostile actions," he added. "The FBI and our U.S. Government partners will continue to disrupt efforts by hostile foreign governments seeking to intimidate and cause harm through violence."



Four foreign nationals were charged Thursday with transporting suspected Iranian-made weapons on a vessel intercepted by U.S. naval forces in the Arabian Sea last month. (Department of Justice)

images of two Navy SEALs

Navy Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Christopher J. Chambers, left, and Navy Special Warfare Operator 2nd Class Nathan Gage Ingram went missing this month during a nighttime boarding mission off the coast of Somalia.  (U.S. Navy)

According to court records, U.S. Central Command Navy forces operating from the USS Lewis B. Puller, which included Navy SEALs and members of the U.S. Coast Guard Maritime Security Response Team East, boarded a small vessel on Jan. 11.

The DOJ said that when Navy Special Warfare Operator 2nd Class Nathan Gage Ingram began climbing the ladder onto the boat, he slipped, falling into a gap the waves had created between the vessel and the SEALs' combatant craft. 

As he went under, Navy Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Christopher J. Chambers jumped into the gap to try to save him.

The agency said that the Navy conducted an extensive search to locate and rescue each SEAL, but on Jan. 22, both service members were declared dead.

The US military members encountered 14 people onboard the vessel, which was in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Somalia.

During a search of the vessel, the U.S. boarding team allegedly located and seized Iranian-made advanced conventional weaponry.

The DOJ said that preliminary analysis of the weaponry indicated that it included "critical components" for medium range ballistic missiles (MRBM) and anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM).


The agency said that they also found warhead, propulsion and guidance components in the seized materials.


Some of the weaponry and components that were found in the smugglers' vessel. The Department of Justice said that the materials were consistent with what Iranian-backed Houthi rebels use in merchant and U.S. military attacks. (Department of Justice)

The agency said that the materials found onboard are "allegedly consistent" with weaponry used by Iranian-backed Houthi rebel forces in the recent attacks on U.S. military ships and merchant ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

According to court records, the Navy brought the 14 foreign national mariners aboard the USS Lewis B. Puller after determining that their vessel was unsafe and not seaworthy. 

On Feb. 11, the U.S. obtained arrest warrants for four of the foreign nationals, identified as Muhammad Pahlawan, Mohammad Mazhar, Ghufran Ullah, and Izhar Muhammad. 


A warhead found on board the vessel allegedly smuggling Iranian-made weapons. (Department of Justice)

The four men, who were found with Pakistani identification cards, were transferred from the USS Lewis B. Fuller to the Eastern District of Virginia. 

The DOJ said that Pahlawan is charged with: intentionally and unlawfully transporting on board a warhead, knowing the warhead would be used by the Houthi rebel forces against commercial and naval vessels in the Red Sea and surrounding waters; and providing materially false information to U.S. Coast Guard officers during the boarding of the dhow regarding the vessel’s crew and cargo.

Mazhar, Ullah, and Muhammad were also charged with providing materially false information to U.S. Coast Guard officers during the boarding of the vessel regarding the vessel’s crew and/or cargo.

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