U.S. Charges Four Men From Vessel in Fatal Navy SEAL Boarding

U.S. Navy SEALs conduct a nighttime boarding drill (USN file image)
U.S. Navy SEALs conduct a nighttime boarding drill (USN file image)

Published Feb 22, 2024 9:09 PM by The Maritime Executive


The U.S. Justice Department has filed charges against four foreign nationals suspected of transporting Iranian-made weapons to Houthi rebel forces and which were intercepted in a mission that led to the death of two Navy SEALs last month.

The department announced that the four foreigners – who were all carrying Pakistani identification cards — are being charged with the criminal offense of transporting a cache of conventional weapons that were intercepted in the Arabian Sea, off the coast of Somalia, aboard an unflagged dhow. Ten other individuals have been detained as material witnesses in the criminal case unsealed at U.S. District Court in Richmond.

The four defendants have been identified as Muhammad Pahlawan, Mohammad Mazhar, Ghufran Ullah and Izhar Muhammad. They are alleged of transporting weapons consistent with those used by Houthi rebel forces and lying to the U.S. Coast Guard during the boarding of the vessel on January 11.

Two Navy Seals lost their lives in the operation that led to the arrest. The two SEALS were part of a team of U.S. Central Command Navy forces operating from the deck of the sea base USS Lewis B. Puller. One of the sailors perished after being washed off a boarding ladder by a wave, and the other jumped in to save him.

“Two Navy SEALs tragically lost their lives in the operation that thwarted the defendants charged today from allegedly smuggling Iranian-made weapons that the Houthis could have used to target American forces and threaten freedom of navigation and a vital artery for commerce,” said Lisa Monaco, Deputy Attorney General.

Court records in the case show U.S forces boarded the small vessel in the Arabian Sea, locating and seizing what was believed to be Iranian-made advanced conventional weaponry. Preliminary analysis of the weaponry indicated that it included critical components for medium-range ballistic missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles, including a warhead and propulsion and guidance components.

According to U.S. officials, the type of weaponry found aboard the dhow was consistent with the weapons used by the Houthi rebel forces in recent attacks on merchant ships and U.S. military ships off Yemen.

Pahlawan is charged with intentionally and unlawfully transporting a warhead and providing false information to U.S. Coast Guard officers during the boarding of the dhow. The other three were charged with providing false information on the crew and cargo. If convicted, Pahlawan faces a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison, and the other three face a penalty of up to five years.