SAN’A, Yemen (AP) – Yemeni coast guards have seized a boat they say illegally entered the country’s territorial waters and arrested five Iranians on board, the Interior Ministry said Wednesday.
Local media have reported the boat captured on Monday was Iranian and suspected of smuggling arms to Shiite rebels battling government troops in Yemen’s northern Saada province.
But the ministry statement only said the boat was intercepted after illegally entering Yemeni territorial waters off the western coast. It was escorted to a naval base on a nearby island and the sailors who were on board, five Iranians and one Indian, were being questioned, the statement said.
Iran’s state media denied an Iranian boat had been seized in Yemen.
Yemen has been embroiled in a sporadic five-year conflict with Saada’s Shiite rebels, who accuse authorities of neglecting their needs and of allying with hard-line Sunni fundamentalists. Fighting has intensified since August, displacing tens of thousands of people and limited their access to humanitarian aid.
Some Yemeni officials recently stepped up accusations that Iran and Shiite communities across the Mideast are supporting the Shiite rebels fighting the military in Saada, which borders Saudi Arabia. The rebels belong to the Zaydi branch of Islam’s Shiite sect.
Tehran denies supporting the rebels and the Yemeni government has not provided any evidence to support the accusation.
The ministry gave no details about when the boat was seized but local media reported Tuesday that an Iranian boat smuggling weapons was captured and its Iranian crew arrested. Government spokesman Hassan al-Lawzi confirmed the arrests but did not give details or say if weapons were seized.