Thousands of Machine Guns and Sniper Rifles and Over 500,000 Rounds of Ammunition Seized En Route from Iran to Yemen Transferred to Ukrainian Armed Forces

April 9, 2024

On April 4, the United States transferred over 5,000 AK-47s, machine guns, sniper rifles, and RPG-7s, and over 500,000 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition to the Ukrainian armed forces. These armaments were seized by U.S. Central Command and partner naval forces from four flagless vessels in the Arabian Sea enroute from Iran to Yemen, where sanctioned groups including Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) directly support the Houthi movement. The Department of Justice then filed a civil forfeiture action against the seized munitions, resulting in a Dec. 1, 2023, order by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia transferring title to the United States.

“With this weapons transfer, the United States government is both disrupting Iran’s destabilizing efforts and supporting Ukraine’s fight against Russia’s brutal, unprovoked invasion,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “The Justice Department will continue to use our legal authorities, including forfeiture, to support the Ukrainian people in their fight for freedom, democracy, and the rule of law.”

“As we see Russia and Iran engaging in conduct to undermine global security, the Department of Justice is taking deadly weapons out of the hands of terrorists and putting them into the hands of Ukrainians defending their homeland,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matthew G. Olsen.  “We will continue to use the full reach of our authorities to disrupt the Iranian government’s efforts to undermine stability and to support the Ukrainian people’s stance against tyranny.”

“Civil forfeiture remains an important tool in our efforts to stop or disrupt terrorist organizations like the IRGC,” said U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves for the District of Columbia. “Its use in this case demonstrates the power of our counter-threat financing actions to strip legal control of assets from bad actors.  We are proud to have been able to work with CENTCOM in this matter, and through them to further the efforts of partners like the Ukrainian armed forces in their fight to maintain freedom.”

According to court documents in the civil forfeiture action, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command seized the weapons from four interdictions of stateless dhow vessels: two from 2021 and two from 2023. These interdictions led to the discovery and seizure of four large caches of conventional weapons, including long arms and anti-tank missiles, and related munitions – all of which were determined to be primarily of either Iranian, Chinese, or Russian origin.

This action followed the government’s successful March 2023 forfeiture action against over one million rounds of ammunition en route from Iran to Yemen, which were also transferred to the Ukrainian armed forces. These forfeiture actions addressed the illicit trafficking of advanced conventional weapons systems and components by sanctioned Iranian entities that directly support military action by the Houthi movement in Yemen and the Iranian regime’s campaign of terrorist activities throughout the region. The forfeiture complaints alleged sophisticated schemes by the IRGC to clandestinely ship weapons to entities that pose grave threats to U.S. national security.

The HSI Washington Field Office and the DCIS Mid-Atlantic Field Office are leading the larger investigation of the Iranian weapons-smuggling network, with substantial assistance from the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command in conducting the seizures.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Stuart D. Allen, Brian P. Hudak, Rajbir S. Datta, and Anna D. Walker for the District of Columbia and Trial Attorneys S. Derek Shugert and Joshua Champagne of the National Security Division litigated the case, with support from Paralegal Specialists Brian Rickers and Angela De Falco.