WASHINGTON — Navy warships seized nearly 2,800 pounds of hashish from a small vessel in the northern Arabian Sea and detained the boat's 15 crew members, who were believed to be smuggling contraband for Al Qaeda, the military said Friday.
The boat seized on New Year's Day was the fourth drug-smuggling vessel intercepted by Americans recently in or near the Persian Gulf believed to be funneling money to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network. Its seizure resulted from interrogation of crew members arrested on the other boats, the Navy said.
The hashish on the small wooden vessel, called a dhow, had an estimated street value of $11 million and was hidden under blocks of ice and in concealed compartments, said a statement from the Navy's 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain. Two of the other boats seized in recent weeks carried methamphetamines and heroin, and a third had hashish.
The dhow's crew members are being held by the Navy on the amphibious assault ship Peleliu, one of three Navy ships that stopped the boat Thursday, said Cmdr. James Graybeal, a 5th Fleet spokesman.
Ten men captured aboard the three vessels seized earlier are being held at a U.S. prison at a base in Bagram, Afghanistan.
Military officials have not disclosed what evidence they have linking the drug ships to Al Qaeda. They declined to say where the latest ship was coming from or where it was headed.
Officials have long asserted that the terrorist organization benefits directly from narcotics trade. "It is easy to see how Al Qaeda could use this moneymaking network to fund their operations," Vice Adm. David C. Nichols Jr., commander of the 5th Fleet, said in the statement.