International investigators have found a suspected "weapon pipeline" from Iran through Somalia to Yemen where Shiite rebels are battling the government, according to a report released on Wednesday.
Saudi Arabia and the United States have accused Iran of arming the Huthi rebels in Yemen, but Tehran denies the charges.
Since March last year Riyadh has led an Arab coalition fighting the Huthis and their allies in support of Yemen’s internationally recognised president, Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, after the rebels overran much of the country.
The analysis by Conflict Armament Research (CAR) is based on the seizure in February and March this year of weapons from dhows, traditional sailing vessels, in the Arabian Sea.
British-based CAR, which is primarily funded by the European Union, analysed photographs of weapons confiscated from the dhows by the Australian warship HMAS Darwin and the French frigate FS Provence.
The ships were part of a joint international task force that operates separately from the Saudi coalition.
HMAS Darwin seized more than 2,000 weapons, including AK-type assault rifles and 100 Iranian-manufactured rocket launchers, from the dhow bound for Somalia, CAR said.
The seizure by FS Provence included 2,000 assault rifles “characteristic of Iranian manufacture” and 64 Hoshdar-M Iranian-made sniper rifles, all of which were in new condition, CAR said.
There were also nine Russian-made Kornet anti-tank guided missiles, it said.
UAE forces within the Saudi-led coalition reported recovering in Yemen a Kornet which CAR said is part of “the same production run” as those on the dhow.
This “supports allegations that the weapons originated in Iran and that the dhow’s cargo was destined for Yemen,” CAR said.
French government sources said the dhow was headed to Somalia “for possible transhipment to Yemen,” CAR said.
Light machine guns, suspected to be North Korean made, were found with the same serial number sequence on both dhows, “which suggests that the materiel derived from the same original consignment,” the report added.
It also referred to the US Navy’s seizure from a dhow in March of AK-type assault rifles, rocket launchers and machine guns which the US believed “orginated in Iran and were destined for Yemen.”
Two of the dhows were made by Al Mansoor of Iran, CAR said.
Although their findings were “relatively limited,” the investigators said their analysis “suggests the existence of a weapon pipeline extending from Iran to Somalia and Yemen”.
This involves “significant quantities of Iranian-manufactured weapons and weapons that plausibly derive from Iranian stockpiles,” they said.
It said that traffickers offload weapons in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland in northern Somalia “for local arms markets or as transhipment points for onward supply to Yemen”.
Other analysts have questioned the extent of Tehran’s influence over the Huthis, a minority group which fought six wars against Yemen’s government from 2004 to 2010.