updated 12/20/2003 6:13:28 PM ET 2003-12-20T23:13:28

U.S. sailors seized an estimated $3 million worth of drugs Saturday as an Arab sailing crew in the northern Arabian Sea tossed the bags overboard. Authorities were investigating whether al-Qaida was linked to the shipment.

The seizure of 85 pounds of heroin came a day after the U.S. Navy announced the Dec. 15 confiscation of two tons of hashish believed tied to Osama bin Laden’s terror network. That seizure, in the Persian Gulf, was considered by Western analysts to be some of the first hard evidence of al-Qaida links to drug smuggling.

In a daybreak raid Saturday, sailors on a guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea boarded two dhows, or traditional Arab sailing boats, and detained 21 crew members, according to a statement issued by the U.S. Navy 5th Fleet. The dhows were also confiscated.

A U.S. Navy aircraft filmed the crew of one dhow throwing approximately 200 bags of suspected drugs overboard as it “attempted to outrun” the Navy cruiser, the statement said.

Officials believe the bags contain pure heroin with a minimum street value of $1.5 million.

On the other dhow, sailors seized approximately 150 pounds of methamphetamines with a street value estimated at $1.5 million.

Rear Adm. Jim Stavridis said in the statement that U.S. officials are “investigating potential al-Qaida connections to these operations.”

The Australian, British, New Zealand and U.S. air forces tracked the dhows for two days after receiving intelligence information gleaned from the Dec. 15 seizure.

During that operation, sailors from the guided missile destroyer USS Decatur seized a dhow in the Persian Gulf that was carrying two tons of hashish and detained 12 crew members, three of whom were suspected of having links to al-Qaida.

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