Iran’s involvement in Horn of Africa weapons trafficking network

Iranian fingerprints are all over a multi-million dollar arms trafficking enterprise, blacklisted by the United States on Tuesday (November 1), that funneled weapons between Iran, Yemen and the Horn of Africa.

Iranian weapons and money are deeply entangled in the illicit network, allegedly feeding the violence by al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda affiliate based in Somalia, and the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” in Somalia (ISIS-Somalia).

The US sanctions, targeting eight individuals and one company, were announced two days after al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for October 29 bombings that killed at least 100 and injured 300 in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu.

Of the eight individuals blacklisted Tuesday, four had clearly documented links with Iranian nationals or with Iran’s proxies in Yemen, the Houthis.

Abdirahman Mohamed Omar, who smuggled arms from Yemen to Somalia, was considered the most active illicit arms importer in Puntland as of 2020, and has executed more than $2 million worth of transactions over a four-year period.

This shipment, procured at the request of ISIS-Somalia members, contained more than 30 G3 rifles from Iran, among other weapons, including more than 30 boxes of machine guns and rifles and improvised explosive device initiators.

As of early 2022, Iranian businesses were contracting Houthi-connected fishing agents and dhows to conduct deep-sea blast fishing off the Somali coast.

These vessels belonged to a network that used fishing as a cover to work on Iranian weapons trafficking, transportation, and money laundering. Yusuf owned a dhow that was used for deep-sea fishing activities as part of this network.

The purpose of deep-sea blast fishing was to get the maximum number of fish from the floor of the sea by blasting dynamite.

Iran has been accused previously of helping itself to Yemen’s fish wealth via illicit fishing operations, even as that country teeters on the brink of famine.

Yusuf has purchased fuel in Qandala, Somalia, to sell in Yemen, using the profits to purchase weapons from AQAP to sell to pirates back in Qandala.

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