Egyptian forces capture arms ship off Sinai

Vessel reportedly Iranian, carrying arms to Sinai-based terrorist elements; Israeli vessel carrying weapons for an African security company also detained

An Iranian cargo ship. (illustrative photo: CC BY-SA, sludgegulper, Flickr)
An Iranian cargo ship. (illustrative photo: CC BY-SA, sludgegulper, Flickr)

Egyptian security forces detained a fishing vessel reportedly smuggling arms off the southern coast of the Sinai Peninsula on Thursday. Ten crew members were arrested by the Egyptian Navy.

The ship was reportedly an Iranian vessel bearing 60,000 rifles, RPG launchers, machine guns, hand grenades and ammunition, according to Israel Radio. It was captured 30 kilometers off Ras Mohammad, the southernmost point of the peninsula.

The Egyptian military later denied that the ship was Iranian, according to a Channel 10 report.

An unconfirmed Egyptian media report said that some of the crew members arrested by Egyptian authorities were American and British citizens.

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Israel has long asserted that Iran provides Gaza- and Sinai-based terrorist groups with weapons via the Red Sea, Sudan in particular. Sudan accused Israel of striking an arms factory outside Khartoum in October. The weapons are smuggled across Egypt’s lawless Sinai Peninsula and into the Gaza Strip through a network of smuggling tunnels under the 15-kilometer border.

Also on Thursday, Egyptian authorities detained a ship that had strayed into its territorial waters after setting sail from Eilat bound for the West African country of Togo. According to an AFP report, the vessel was carrying 105 crates of weapons and ammunition for an African security company involved with defending maritime routes from pirates off the Horn of Africa.

An Egyptian official told the AFP that that ship was being held to determine whether it was carrying smuggled weapons.

Also on Thursday, Egyptian soldiers conducted a search for terrorists preparing to attack Israeli targets in the region, Israel Radio reported. It was not clear whether they intended to fire rockets at the port city of Eilat or target ships in the Red Sea, the report said.

Last week officials said Egyptian forces foiled a number of planned terror attacks against Israeli and Egyptian targets in Sinai. In 2012 rockets were fired from Sinai into Israel and Egyptian forces were attacked by extreme Islamic terror groups. Last month a jihadist group reportedly fired a more advanced rocket as part of a drill.

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