Turkey informed a UN Security Council panel it seized a cache of weapons Iran was exporting in violations of a UN arms embargo, Reuters reported on Thursday.
The report to the council’s Iran sanctions committee, said a March 21 inspection turned up the weapons, which were listed as “auto spare parts” on the plane’s cargo manifest.
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. During the stop Turkish officials searched the plane for weapons.
According to the report, the search of the Iranian “YasAir Cargo Airlines” Ilyushin-76 revealed a number of “prohibited military items.” Namely, 60 Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifles, 14 BKC/Bixi machine guns, nearly 8,000 rounds of BKC/AK-47 ammunition, 560 60mm mortar shells, and 1,288 120mm 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 in light of Iran’s training and arming of Hizbullah in south Lebanon.
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.
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, which many in the international community believe is dedicated to developing nuclear weapons.
Colombia’s UN 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.”
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. Diplomats said it was not clear whether Iran had stepped up its efforts to skirt the sanctions or countries have become more vigilant in enforcing them.
Not An Isolated Incident
On March 27, Qatar’s navy seized two boats laden with arms it says were destined for Bahrain.
On March 15, Israeli naval commandos seized a cargo ship in the Mediterranean carrying what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said were Iranian-supplied weapons intended for terrorists in Gaza. In 2009 Israel made a similar seizure of Iranian arms off the coast of Cyprus.
Britain has complained publicly about a shipment of Iranian weapons allegedly bound for Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.
Nigerian authorities have also complained to the sanctions committee about an Iranian arms shipment it seized last year that Tehran said was a legitimate trade deal with Gambia. Nigeria is prosecuting one of two Iranians allegedly involved in the deal.
Last week, UN diplomats said authorities in Singapore and South Korea had seized items banned under the sanctions against Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.
One of the items — aluminum powder seized in Singapore — was originally thought to be from North Korea, though investigators now believe that the powder came from a Chinese firm. The other item, phosphor bronze discovered in South Korea, also came from a Chinese company.
There was no evidence that the Chinese government was involved, though diplomats said the incidents raised questions about Chinese export controls and concerns about the readiness of some Chinese companies to defy the sanctions regime.
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