Germany stops Iranian purchases of mini-engines for Houthi drones

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Underground technology trade goes on via Xiamen and Mombassa smuggling routes

Sep 24, 2020

September 24, 2020

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German officials have imposed a ban on sales model aircraft engines to Iran after a shipment was found to have ended up in drones used by Yemen's Houthis to attack Saudi Arabia.

The move prompted a shift in Iranian procurement to target advanced engine technology that is smuggled on drones bought from Chinese manufacturers and shipped from Xiamen to Mombassa, where the units are spirited to Salalah and on to Houthi strongholds, according to intelligence reports on the trade.

It has emerged that a small manufacturer of the engines for miniaturised versions of well known aircraft was approached with concerns by Germany's domestic intelligence, which had been monitoring sales of units that were later found on the battlefield. The shipment of 42 two cylinder propeller motors in 2015 was routed via Athens to Tehran. Intelligence officials working for the Federal Office For the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) stepped in weeks later to prevent further sales to Iran.

"Of course, there were no indications that the engines should be delivered to Iran. At the instigation of the BfV, the execution of the order was prevented," Karsten Schudt, the managing director of the engine maker 3W-International said.

Iran has targeted German and Dutch-based precision engineered small engines for more than a decade to boost its own drone production. These include diverting powerful machines capable of output of more that 80 bhp make by Limbach Flugmotoren, another German-based manufacturer.

Experts believe that for at least five years the Iranians have built up a drone making capability for its Houthi allies. Since mid-2018, the Houthis have begun using more advanced drones from Iran's Sammad series of aerial vehicles, which is believed to have three variants and capable of flying well over a 1,000 kilometres. It boasts a powerful engine is more powerful and has a larger warhead.

According to a dossier circulating in Europe compiled by an undercover agent known as Jason G, the Houthi-Iran drone production has been financed by Qatar in recent years.

At the centre of the web is a Cyprus front company that used funds generated from gold trading to make payments to European-based suppliers. The dossier also shows the front company had documented links to leading Qatari financial institutions.

Updated: September 24, 2020 10:16 PM

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