Thursday, 13 October 2011

US imposes sanctions on an Iranian airline

The US has imposed sanctions on an Iranian airline, which reportedly carried members of an elite force linked to an alleged plot to kill the Saudi envoy to the US. According to the US Treasury, Mahan Air flew members of Iran's Quds Force and Hezbollah across the Middle East.

The sanctions stipulate that the airline's US assets will be frozen and US firms are barred from doing business with it. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the supposed plan was "dangerous escalation" by Iran.

The sanctions were announced a day after the authorities thwarted a conspiracy to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel Al-Jubeir, on US soil using explosives.

The US has accused Iran's Quds Force, an elite unit of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, of being involved in the plan. Iran has counteracted the charges, saying they are part of the US government's plan to besmirch the Islamic Republic.

It is not yet clear why the force would choose Manssor Arbabsiar, a man with a criminal record, as the key agent of its first ever attack inside the US. Nor is it clear why Iran would involve a Mexican drugs cartel to plant the bomb.

Speaking about the issue, White House press secretary Jay Carney said: "It's clear that senior levels of Quds force were engaged in the plotting."

On Tuesday 11th October, the US also imposed sanctions against five people linked to the alleged assassination plot, including two men, Arbabsiar, a 56-year-old naturalised US citizen with dual Iranian and US passports, and Gholam Shakuri, who lives in Iran, charged over the investigation.

Shakuri and three other men are thought to belong to the Quds Force. Arbabsiar, accused of wiring £63,000 to a US bank account to finance the alleged $1.5m conspiracy, was charged in a New York City court on Tuesday.

The US said that the accused approached a US informant posing as a member of a Mexican drug cartel to carry out the assassination. Speaking about it on Wednesday 12th October, Treasury official David Cohen said: "Mahan Air's close co-ordination with the IRGC-QF [Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp-Quds Force] - secretly ferrying operatives, weapons and funds on its flights - reveals yet another facet of the IRGC's extensive infiltration of Iran's commercial sector to facilitate its support for terrorism."

Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted by Iran'sAlalam channel as saying: "America has launched a mischievous scenario. But be certain, they will apologise [to Iran] in the future."

The Gulf Cooperation Council condemned the alleged plot as a "flagrant violation" of international laws.

Sources: AP, BBC News, Reuters

For more news and expert analysis about Iran, please see Iran Strategic Focus.

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