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New evidence links Iran to terror group

By Courtney Kube
      NBC News producer  

U.S. officials tell NBC News that there is new evidence that Iran may be supplying goods to the terror group that U.S. intelligence officials consider to be the most dangerous threat to the United States -- al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Over the weekend, the Indian Navy intercepted a ship -- the MV Nafis-I -- off the coast of Mumbai. Indian sailors found several weapons (including a few AK-47s and a pistol), but mostly just food and supplies on board. The ship had a crew of several Yemeni nationals, along with at least one Somali, and several others from other nearby African countries.

A U.S. official says that the ship left Iran several days ago and that U.S. assets tracked the ship as a "vessel of interest" for a few days and then provided information to the Indian Navy so they could intercept it.

U.S. intelligence officials say that the ship was headed to Yemen and they believe it was bringing the goods to AQAP.

"We were cognizant of this vessel and what it was intending to do," one U.S. official said, adding that, "we go on our best intelligence."  The official explained that if a ship is transporting goods to supply a terror network, then the vessel is in violation of the U.N. Security Council resolution and is subject to boarding.

The official acknowledged that there were not many weapons on the ship when it was boarded, but also pointed out that it is common for crews to throw weapons overboard when a military vessel approaches.

A senior defense official said that if Iran is aiding AQAP, that would be "highly unusual," but added that there is clear evidence that Iran has supported other branches of al-Qaida in the recent past, including al-Qaida in Iraq.