UNITED STATES NEWS

Two Navy SEALs drowned in the Arabian Sea. How the US charged foreign crew with smuggling weapons

Feb 23, 2024, 3:58 PM

FILE - This undated image released by the U.S. military's Central Command shows what it is describe...

FILE - This undated image released by the U.S. military's Central Command shows what it is described as the vessel that carried Iranian-made missile components bound for Yemen's Houthi in the Arabian Sea. Four foreign nationals were charged Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, with transporting suspected Iranian-made weapons on a vessel intercepted by U.S. naval forces in the Arabian Sea last month. Two Navy SEALs died during the mission. (U.S. Central Command via AP, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(U.S. Central Command via AP, File)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Two Navy SEALs drowned last month while trying to board a vessel that was intercepted by U.S. naval forces in the Arabian Sea. On Thursday, federal prosecutors unsealed a criminal complaint against four foreign nationals they say were transporting suspected Iranian-made missile components on the vessel.

The four sailors were later taken to Virginia where they were criminally charged. Material witness warrants were filed against another 10 crew members.

In an affidavit supporting the criminal complaint, an FBI agent wrote that the sailors admitted they had departed from Iran after at least one of the them initially claimed they left from Pakistan. All four sailors had Pakistani identifications cards.

Prosecutors said they were smuggling missile components for the type of weapons used by Houthi rebel forces in recent weeks.

Here’s a look at the case and what comes next:

WHAT HAPPENED ON THE ARABIAN SEA?

On the night of Jan. 11, U.S. Central Command Navy forces, including Navy SEALs, along with members of the U.S. Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team, boarded an unflagged vessel described as a dhow in international waters of the Arabian Sea, off the coast of Somalia.

U.S. officials have said that while boarding the boat, Navy Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Christopher J. Chambers slipped into the gap created by high waves between the vessel and the SEALs’ combatant craft. As Chambers fell, Navy Special Warfare Operator 2nd Class Nathan Gage Ingram jumped in to try to save him, according to U.S. officials familiar with what happened. Both men were lost at sea. Efforts to find and rescue them were unsuccessful.

During a search of the ship, U.S. forces found and seized what an FBI official described as Iranian-made advanced conventional weaponry, including critical parts for medium-range ballistic missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles, a warhead, and propulsion and guidance components.

The FBI affidavit said the type of weaponry found on the vessel is consistent with weaponry used by Houthi rebel forces in recent attacks on merchant ships and U.S. military ships in the region.

WHY CAN THE U.S. ARREST FOREIGN NATIONALS IN INTERNATIONAL WATERS?

Navy forces were conducting an “authorized flag verification” when they boarded the vessel in international waters.

U.S. authorities can board a ship to verify if it has the authority to fly its flag or to determine the nationality of a vessel without a flag. Any country has a right under international law to board vessels and check for documentation of its nationality.

In this case, U.S. forces determined the vessel was violating international law by not having any flag in international waters. That made it a “vessel without nationality” subject to U.S. jurisdiction, the FBI affidavit states.

Navy forces ultimately determined the dhow was unsafe and unseaworthy and sunk the vessel “according to protocol,” the FBI agent wrote.

All 14 sailors on the vessel were brought onto the USS Lewis B. Puller and were later taken to Virginia.

Martin Davies, director of the Maritime Law Center at Tulane University Law School, said flag verifications are more common in drug investigations because ships smuggling drugs often conceal any signs of identification.

“It’s clearly permitted under international law,” Davies told The Associated Press. “Any country would have the authority to do this.”

Some countries may not like the U.S. “throwing its weight around in another part of the world,” Davis noted.

“But that’s a political thing, not a legal thing,” he said.

WHY CAN PROSECUTORS HOLD THE 10 CREW MEMBERS?

The other 10 crew members are being detained under the federal material witness law. It allows courts to issue warrants for the arrest and detention of a person if their testimony is “material in a criminal proceeding,” and if it “may become impracticable to secure the presence of the person by subpoena.”

The law attracted attention and sparked controversy when it was used in international terrorism investigations after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Defense lawyers have criticized the law because it can result in people being detained for lengthy periods even though they are not charged with or suspected of committing a crime.

A 2014 report by the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General identified 112 cases in which material witnesses were detained from 2000 until 2012. The median period of time those witnesses were detained was 26 days.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE MEN WHO WERE CHARGED?

All four sailors are being held in custody pending preliminary and detention hearings scheduled for Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Richmond. A judge will determine whether to detain the defendants without bail as they await trial.

Muhammad Pahlawan is charged with attempting to smuggle advanced missile component and providing false information to U.S. Coast Guard officers during the boarding of the vessel.

Pahlawan’s co-defendants — Mohammad Mazhar, Ghufran Ullah and Izhar Muhammad — were charged with providing false information.

Melissa O’Boyle, Ullah’s attorney, and Charles Gavin, Muhammad’s attorney, declined to comment on the charges. Attorneys for the other two defendants did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment Friday.

___

Kunzelman reported from Silver Spring, Maryland.

United States News

Associated Press

‘Catch-and-kill’ to be described to jurors as testimony resumes in hush money trial of Donald Trump

NEW YORK (AP) — A longtime tabloid publisher was expected Tuesday to tell jurors about his efforts to help Donald Trump stifle unflattering stories during the 2016 campaign as testimony resumes in the historic hush money trial of the former president. David Pecker, the former National Enquirer publisher who prosecutors say worked with Trump and […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

America’s child care crisis is holding back moms without college degrees

AUBURN, Wash. (AP) — After a series of lower-paying jobs, Nicole Slemp finally landed one she loved. She was a secretary for Washington’s child services department, a job that came with her own cubicle, and she had a knack for working with families in difficult situations. Slemp expected to return to work after having her […]

1 hour ago

Several hundred students and pro-Palestinian supporters rally at the intersection of Grove and Coll...

Associated Press

Pro-Palestinian protests sweep US college campuses following mass arrests at Columbia

NEW YORK (AP) — Columbia canceled in-person classes, dozens of protesters were arrested at New York University and Yale, and the gates to Harvard Yard were closed to the public Monday as some of the most prestigious U.S. universities sought to defuse campus tensions over Israel’s war with Hamas. More than 100 pro-Palestinian demonstrators who […]

4 hours ago

Ban on sleeping outdoors under consideration in Supreme Court...

Associated Press

With homelessness on the rise, the Supreme Court weighs bans on sleeping outdoors

The Supreme Court is wrestling with major questions about the growing issue of homelessness as it considers a ban on sleeping outdoors.

5 hours ago

Arizona judge declares mistrial in case of rancher who shot migrant...

Associated Press

Arizona judge declares mistrial in the case of a rancher accused of fatally shooting a migrant

An Arizona judge declared a mistrial in the case of rancher accused of killing a Mexican man on his property near the U.S.-Mexico border.

5 hours ago

Associated Press

Trial opens for former Virginia hospital medical director accused of sexual abuse of ex-patients

NEW KENT, Va. (AP) — The former longtime medical director of a Virginia hospital that serves vulnerable children used physical examinations as a “ruse” to sexually abuse two teenage patients, a prosecutor said Monday, while the physician’s attorney “adamantly” denied any inappropriate conduct. The trial of Daniel N. Davidow of Richmond, who for decades served […]

5 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines can get you smoothly from Phoenix to Frankfurt on new A330-900neo airplane

Adventure Awaits! And there's no better way to experience the vacation of your dreams than traveling with Condor Airlines.

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Day & Night is looking for the oldest AC in the Valley

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.

(KTAR News Graphic)...

Boys & Girls Clubs

KTAR launches online holiday auction benefitting Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley

KTAR is teaming up with The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley for a holiday auction benefitting thousands of Valley kids.

Two Navy SEALs drowned in the Arabian Sea. How the US charged foreign crew with smuggling weapons