Four people have been charged with smuggling Iranian-made weapons. Two SEALs died in the interception of the ship

Richmond, Va. (AP) — Four foreigners were arrested and charged Thursday with transporting Iranian-made weapons aboard a ship intercepted by the U.S. Navy in the Arabian Sea last month. Two Navy SEALs died during the mission.

The criminal complaint, unsealed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Richmond, alleges that the four defendants — all carrying Pakistani identification cards — are suspected of transporting Iranian-made missile components for weapons used by Houthi rebel forces in recent attacks.

“The flow of missiles and other advanced weapons from Iran to Houthi rebel forces in Yemen threatens the lives and interests of the United States and our allies in the region,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a news release.

Navy Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Christopher J. U.S. officials said Chambers was on a boat on Jan. 11 when he fell into a gap caused by high tides between the ship and the SEALs warship. When Chambers fell, Navy Special Warfare Operator 2nd Class Nathan Gage Ingram tried to save him, U.S. officials familiar with what happened said.

“Two Navy SEALs tragically lost their lives in a raid today that foiled the alleged smuggling of Iranian-made weapons that the Houthis may have used to target U.S. forces and threaten freedom of navigation and a key artery for trade,” Monaco said.

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland vowed that the Department of Justice would “use every legal authority to hold accountable those who facilitate arms traffic from Iran to the Houthi rebel forces, Hamas and other groups that threaten the security of the United States and our allies.”

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Muhammad Bahlawan is accused of trying to smuggle advanced missile components, including a warship, that he knew the Houthi rebels would use against commercial and naval vessels in and around the Red Sea. He is also accused of providing false information to US Coast Guard officials while boarding the ship.

Bahlawan's co-defendants Mohammad Mazhar, Kufran Ullah and Isar Muhammad were also charged with providing false information.

Bahlawan's attorney, Assistant Supervising Federal Public Defender Amy Austin, said Bahlawan made an initial appearance in U.S. District Court on Thursday and is due back in court on Tuesday for a detention hearing. He declined to comment on the case.

“Right now, he's been charged with two felonies, and we're in the early stages, so we know what's in the complaint,” Austin said by phone Thursday.

According to prosecutors, Navy personnel boarded a small, unflagged vessel and set sail on Jan. On the night of the 11th, in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Somalia, they encountered 14 people on board.

Naval forces searched Doh and found Iranian-made weapons, including components for medium-range missiles and anti-ship missiles, prosecutors say.

All 14 sailors on board were brought aboard the USS Louis B. Fuller after Navy officials confirmed the ship was unseaworthy. They were later brought back to Virginia, where criminal charges were filed against four and witness warrants were filed against 10 others.

According to an FBI affidavit, Navy personnel were authorized to board the ship because they had conducted an authorized “flag check” to determine the country of registration of the Dove.

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It was determined to fly without a flag and was therefore considered a “stateless vessel” under U.S. law, the affidavit states.

According to the affidavit, the sailors on board the Dhow admitted they had departed from Iran, although at least one insisted they had originally departed from Pakistan.

The affidavit states that members of the group communicated several times via satellite phone with one of Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guards.

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Barakat reported from Falls Church, Virginia. Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed.

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