by Anna Mahjar-Barducci
The U.S. Department of the Treasury announced in October that Iran's second biggest airline, Mahan Air, would be sanctioned for providing financial, material and technological support to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force [IRCG]. The airline was also reported to have allegedly flown Qods Force members who were linked to the plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the U.S, Adel al-Jubair. Based in Tehran, Mahan Air operates national and international flights to the Far East, Middle East, Central Asia, and Europe.
More dangerous, however, is that through airlines such as Iran Air and Mahan Ar, Iranian officials have been managing until a week ago to cover their presence across Europe and the United States.
Russia and Belarus, however, are continuing to cooperate with the Iranian regime.
Iranian airlines have not long been used to ferry Iranian terrorists all over the Middle East, but also to Latin America. In April, the head of the US Southern Command, General Douglas Fraser, said that the US is concerned about the weekly direct flights between Iran and Venezuela. Since 2007, the Venezuelan airline Conviasa covers the Caracas-Damascus-Tehran route, better known as the "Axis of Evil Express." The main reason for concern is that there is a total lack of transparency on what and who is on board these flights. They could well be transporting terrorists and illicit weapons.
During a press conference, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen said that "Mahan Air's close coordination with the Qods 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." The U.S. Department of Treasury further highlighted that Mahan Air provided travel services to Qods Force personnel to fly to and from Iran and Syria for military training. The airline facilitated, as well, arms shipments and "covert travels" to Iraq of suspected Qods Force, accused of being responsible for targeting U.S. troops.
Mahan Air hadm, in fact, bypassed normal security procedures and not included information on flight manifests to eliminate records of the IRGC-QF travel, U.S. authorities reveal. The airline flies also to Birmingham (Great Britain), to Dusseldorf (Germany) and to Larnaka (Cyrpus), allegedly helping Qods members to travel to Europe. In addition, the U.S. Department of Treasury reported that the airline is providing transportation services, weapons and goods on behalf of Hezbollah.
Mahan Air denied the accusations of having transported on board Qods Force and Hezbollah members. Media outlets reported a statement by route analyst Fariba Bayati saying that the decision by the Department of the Treasury to impose sanctions and freeze the airline's US assets was a method to "exert additional political pressure" on Iran and would "have a direct adverse effect on the safety and security of the people of Iran." Bayati added that the airline is a privately owned civilian company which belongs to the Mol-Al Movahedin Charity Institute and does not have any links to any governmental, political or military bodies.
In June, the U.S. Department of Treasure also imposed sanctions against Iran Air, the flag carrier of the Islamic Republic, for providing material support and services to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iran's Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL); Iran Air was also apparently facilitating proliferation-related activities. The BBC reported that Iran Air has allegedly been used to transport rockets and missiles -- some of them to Syria. "Revolutionary Guard officers are said to occasionally take control of Iran Air flights with special cargo," the BBC reported.
The Iranian opposition group, the Green Experts, states on its Facebook account that the Islamic Republic has recently smuggled, on three occasions, large sums of money out of the country using Iran Air passenger flights.
"One such money-laundering case involved a transfer of millions of Euros to Iranian Embassy in Germany, intended for expansion of Security operations as well as funding of Iranian supported Islamic Centers across Europe, such as those in Hamburg, Vienna and one Sudanese Islamic center based in Europe, and perhaps others. [sic]
"The second case involved the transferring of exorbitant sums of dollars to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, through Iran Air passenger flights. Portions of these funds were later moved to the Philippines, the final destination of which is unclear at this time.
"The third case of Iranian government's money laundering scheme of transporting dollars via Iran Air, is connected to Iran-Pakistan joint-nuclear activity. For this purpose, 100's of millions of dollars in cash have been paid to Pakistani government for the purchasing of necessary components as well as the expertise of Pakistani nuclear scientists." [sic]
The Green Experts Group also mention that a major reason for tightening the circle of Iran Air activities across the world is directly linked to the fact that "over the last 2 years, Iranian Security and Intelligence agents have systematically replaced the directors and managers of Iran Air network across the globe. All evidence at hand point to the fact that the frequent changes in Islamic Republic's Airline management over the recent years, have taken place for the sole purpose of expansion of Iranian Intelligence networks abroad."
Following the U.S. sanctions, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) says it must close its payment services to Iranian citizens using the state-owned airline Iran Air due to the sanctions imposed on the country. All European and American travel agencies are now banned from selling Iran Air tickets.
What other airlines, though, must be doing the same?
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