Turkey says seizes illegal Iran arms shipment

Turkey says seizes illegal Iran arms shipment

Turkey has informed a U.N. Security Council panel that it seized a cache of weapons Iran was attempting to export in breach of a U.N. arms embargo, Reuters reported with reference to a document obtained by the agency on Thursday.

The report to the council's Iran sanctions committee, which oversees compliance with the four rounds of punitive steps the 15-nation body has imposed on Iran over its nuclear program, said a March 21 inspection turned up the weapons, which were listed as "auto spare parts" on the plane's documents.

The plane was bound for Aleppo, Syria, and was given permission to pass through Turkish airspace provided it made a "technical stop" at Diyarbakir airport, the report said.

It said a search of the Iranian "YasAir Cargo Airlines" Ilyushin-76 revealed a number of "prohibited military items" - 60 Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifles, 14 BKC/Bixi machine guns, nearly 8,000 rounds of BKC/AK-47 ammunition, 560 60-mm mortar shells, and 1,288 120-mm mortar shells.

"The above-mentioned items were seized and have been stored in a military warehouse in Diyarbakir," said the report, which was sent to the Iran sanctions committee on March 29.

It was not clear whether Syria was the intended final destination of the weapons. There were no indications on the weapons crates of who the recipient was or where the shipment would have gone had it not been intercepted by the Turks.

"The crew were detained and interrogated by the Diyarbakir State Prosecutor," the report said. "They denied any knowledge about the prohibited items on board, as well as the identity of the consignor or consignee."

The crew were released and allowed to return to Tehran on March 22, but the case is still being investigated, it said.

The United States and Israel have said they suspect Iran uses Syria as a conduit for weapons transfers to militant groups in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. Iran and Syria deny the charges.

Security Council diplomats said the report of the seizure from an Iranian cargo plane reflected positively on Turkey, which some U.S. and European officials say has taken a lax approach to implementing international sanctions against Iranian financial institutions.

The Turkish seizure was the latest in a string of reported Iranian violations of the sanctions imposed on Iran for refusing to halt a nuclear enrichment program that the United States, European Union and their allies suspect is part of a weapons program.

Media reported about the arrest of several vessels and aircraft belonging to Iran in March.

March 15 the Israeli Navy intercepted a Victoria ship in the Mediterranean en route from Turkey to Egypt carrying a large shipment of weapons on March 15. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that weapons were of Iranian origin and destined for militants in the Gaza Strip.

Later, Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi vehemently refuted Israel's statements.

Media also spread information about the confiscation by the border authorities of South Korea and Singapore of cargoes containing suspicious nuclear materials and weapons destined for Iran in March.

Two batches of contraband materials were detained at the Seoul airport in December and at the Singapore port in September 2010. The cargo also included more than 400 suspicious vessels with radioactive raw materials, and aluminum powder, which could be used to create nuclear warheads.

The Nigerian secret service seized three containers with rockets, hand grenades, ammunition and other weapons in the port of Lagos in October 2010. The containers were shipped from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. Dispatcher later sought to have the containers were re-loaded and shipped to the Gambia. Iran stated that the weapons were sent by a private company.

Presumably, the final destinations of the weapons were to be Hamas and Hezbollah.

Colombia 's U.N. Ambassador Nestor Osorio, who chairs the Iran sanctions committee, told the Security Council last week that "the increase in the number of reported sanctions violations is a matter of serious concern."

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