DUBAI // A shipment of 16,000 pistols worth an estimated Dh16?million and bound for Yemen – the largest cache of illegal arms ever found in the UAE – was seized earlier this month, Dubai Police said yesterday.
The final destination for the guns was to be the town of Sa’dah, in northern Yemen. The area has been the site of fighting between the Shiite Houthi rebel group and Yemeni government forces for the past seven years.
Violent protests against the 32-year rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh have been ongoing since January.
Police said they did not yet know to whom the weapons were to be distributed.
Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim, the head of Dubai Police, said yesterday: “With current conditions in Yemen, all possibilities are open. It could just be illegal arms dealers who want to exploit the current situation. But they may also have been intended for use in demonstrations – to fire on demonstrators and then blame the security forces for these acts, or to arm political groups.”
Gen Tamim stressed that he was certain the arms were not intended for use by the Yemeni government.
He described the pistols as small weapons that were designed for personal use, not military weapons. He urged customs workers across the country to be more vigilant, especially at a time when the Middle East was in political turmoil.
“As a police officer, I have to say that there could be more [smuggling attempts]. If I were to say no, I would not be Dubai Police chief,” he said.
Six men have been arrested in Dubai in connection with the shipment. Among the suspects identified were the owner of a Turkish gun factory and a man in Yemen who was to receive the shipment.
The pistols had been sent by sea from Turkey and stopped in Port Said, Egypt, before they were re-routed through an unnamed Gulf country to Dubai because of what police described only as the “unavailability of a navigation route”.
It is not clear if the re-routed shipment travelled by land or sea to Dubai, but police officials confirmed it was destined to leave Dubai by sea. The shipping container was discovered after the State Security Department received information about an illegal weapon shipment entering Dubai and, in co-ordination with Dubai Police, began an investigation.
Police said they intercepted the container on March 9 at a warehouse in Dubai.
The weapons were hidden in boxes of plastic-wrapped furniture.
Police described the weapons as “counterfeit” reproductions of popular models and said they were produced in a Turkish factory.
As many as six varieties of guns were found, including ammunition.
*North Korean illegal haul among past operation successes
Yesterday’s seizure of weapons was not the first for Dubai – or the UAE.
In 2009, authorities captured a cargo shipment illegally carrying North Korean weapons, which included nuclear and missile-related materials and was headed to Iran.
In the same year, Abu Dhabi Police announced seizing 68,618 weapons and weapon materials, including 14 rifles, 59 shotguns, nine assorted weapon components and 68,536 bullets.
The UAE treated the illicit trade in small arms and other weapons as a top security priority, said Lt Col Isa al Shamsi, the director of arms and explosives at the Ministry of Interior.
At an anti-trafficking conference last year, Lt Col al Shamsi said the UAE was committed to strengthening the mechanisms for co-operation in enforcing the UN Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons.
He said the UAE had updated its legislation to comply with benchmarks set by the programme.
* Salam al Amir