Accused Weapons Smugglers Facing Charges in the US

Accused Weapons Smugglers Facing Charges in the US

( – On December 18, 2023, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced the creation of Operation Prosperity Guardian. Defense officials established the multinational operation to push back against increased attacks in the Red Sea region by the Shia Islamist group Houthi — key allies of Iran and Hamas. A recent report indicated that four Houthi weapons smugglers are facing charges in the United States.

On February 22, the Justice Department’s Office of Public Affairs issued a press release detailing a criminal complaint filed against four foreign nationals previously detained by US naval officials. The 31-page affidavit in support of a criminal complaint and arrest warrants accused Izhar Muhammad, Ghufran Ullah, Mohammad Mazhar, and Muhammad Pahlawan of “intentionally and unlawfully” transporting Iranian explosives to Yemen for the Houthis.

The defendants were taken into custody along with 10 other individuals when US Central Command (CENTCOM) forces operating from the USS Lewis B. Puller boarded a small unflagged vessel operating in the Arabian Sea near Somalia’s coastline on January 11. The boarding team identified advanced conventional weapons believed to have been manufactured by Iran.

A preliminary analysis of the weaponry indicated the cache included “critical components” for anti-ship cruise missiles and medium-range ballistic missiles. Those types of advanced components are consistent with weapons currently being used by Houthi rebel forces against US naval ships and commercial vessels operating in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.

Sadly, two Navy SEALS — Navy Special Warfare Operator 2nd Class Nathan Gage Ingram and Navy Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Christopher Chambers — died while boarding the suspected Houthi’s ship. One SEAL was knocked overboard while attempting to board the vessel, and the other one jumped into the rough seas to rescue him. A few days later, CENTCOM issued a statement announcing the presumptive death of the two SEALs after an exhaustive search by naval officials from the US, Spain, and Japan.

On February 11, naval officials executed the arrest warrants on the four defendants and material witness warrants for the remaining suspected Houthi rebels detained during the January 11 interdiction. All fourteen were transported to detention officials in Richmond, Virginia. The defendants and witnesses made their initial appearance before a US magistrate judge for the Eastern District of Virginia on February 22.

Pahlawan faces up to 20 years imprisonment for transporting a warhead, and all four defendants face up to five years for making false statements to naval officials if convicted. The court hasn’t set a date for the defendants’ next hearing.

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