US charges 2 alleged Iran agents with spying

The federal E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse in Washington. (AP)
Updated 23 August 2018

US charges 2 alleged Iran agents with spying

  • The US has charged two alleged agents of Iran, accusing them of conducting covert surveillance of Israeli and Jewish facilities
  • The two are alleged to have been collecting intelligence on Americans connected to an organization that wants to see the current Iranian government overthrown

WASHINGTON: The US has charged two alleged agents of Iran, accusing them of conducting covert surveillance of Israeli and Jewish facilities in the United States and collecting intelligence on Americans linked to a political organization that wants to see the current Iranian government overthrown.
Earlier this week, Ahmadreza Doostdar, 38, a dual US-Iranian citizen born in Long Beach, California, and Majid Ghorbani, 59, who has lived and worked in Costa Mesa, California, since he arrived in the United States in the mid-1990s, were charged with acting as illegal agents for Tehran. Ghorbani, who denies the charges, became a legal permanent resident of the United States in 2015.
Their arrests come as the Trump administration ratchets up pressure on Iran. The administration recently re-imposed sanctions on Iran to deny Tehran the funds it needs to finance terrorism, its missile program and forces in conflicts in Yemen and Syria.
According to a criminal complaint filed in US District Court in Washington, Doostdar allegedly conducted surveillance in July 2017 on Rohr Chabad House, a Jewish student center at the University of Chicago in Hyde Park. The surveillance included security features around the center.
Jonathan Greenblatt, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, applauded the arrests and thanked the FBI for “disrupting the alleged intelligence gathering efforts of the Islamic Republic of Iran, a nation with a long record of involvement in, and support for, terror attacks against Jewish and Israeli institutions.”
Most of the spying detailed in the court documents, however, focused on the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, a group that is outlawed in Iran and was listed as a terrorist organization by the State Department until 2012.
Despite deep ideological differences, the MEK were partners with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the 1979 revolution that toppled the US-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Following the revolution, the MEK quickly fell out with Khomeini and launched an armed revolt against Khomeini’s new theocracy. The group advocates for the overthrow of the current Iranian government.
In September 2017, Ghorbani allegedly attended a MEK rally in New York City where he photographed people protesting against the current Iranian government.
In late 2017, Doostdar returned to the United States from Iran and made contact with Ghorbani in the Los Angeles area. Doostdar allegedly paid Ghorbani about $2,000 in cash for 28 photographs taken at the September 2017 rally.
The photographs had hand-written annotations identifying the individuals in them. These photographs, along with a receipt for $2,000, were found concealed in Doostdar’s luggage as he transited a US airport on his return to Iran in December 2017.
Court documents indicate that one of the people targeted was Alireza Jafarzadeh, deputy director of National Council of Resistance of Iran-US in Washington. His revelations about Iran’s nuclear sites in August 2002 triggered the first inspections in Iran by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Federal agents conducting court-authorized electronic surveillance heard Ghorbani tell Doostdar in December 2017 that he had seen Jafarzadeh at the New York rally. He said he saw the man who “leaked the nuclear program” and went on to say that one of the other attendees deserves “one shot,” an apparent reference to a bullet.
Jafarzadeh said that when he learned about the arrests of the two men, he was pleased, but not surprised.
“The Iranian regime has been operating here under different covers, under different ways for the past years — for decades honestly speaking,” Jafarzadeh told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday. “They got away with pretty much everything.”
He said that “emboldened the regime to the point that they felt they can actually do things here on American soil. That’s a very bold move on the part of the Iranian regime.”
In May, Ghorbani attended the MEK-affiliated 2018 Iran Freedom Convention for Human Rights in Washington. During the conference, Ghorbani appeared to photograph certain speakers and attendees, which included delegations from across the United States. On May 14, Doostdar called Ghorbani to discuss the clandestine ways Ghorbani could use to get the information to Iran.
The indictment charged Doostdar and Ghorbani with knowingly acting as agents of the government of Iran without notifying the US attorney general, providing services to Iran in violation of US sanctions and conspiracy. Both defendants were arrested on Aug. 9, pursuant to criminal complaints issued by the US District Court for the District of Columbia.
The FBI’s field offices in Washington and Los Angeles investigated the case, which is being prosecuted by the national security section of the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section of the National Security Division of the Justice Department.
A court hearing in the case is set for Sept. 6.

Rohingya leaders to visit Myanmar

Updated 16 November 2018

Rohingya leaders to visit Myanmar

  • Community leaders will check on preparations for repatriation
  • Refugees who fled tents fearing forced repatriation have started to return

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh: A group of Rohingya community leaders will go to Rakhine, Myanmar, to witness developments on the ground there, said Bangladesh Foreign Minister A. H. Mahmood Ali on Thursday evening in Dhaka.

Ali was talking to the journalists after his briefing to diplomats in Dhaka over the Rohingya repatriation and forthcoming general election. He said that during the briefing session diplomats came up with the idea of sending the Rohingya community leaders (Majhi) to witness the practical developments for repatriation.

“We agreed with this idea,” said Bangladesh Foreign Minister.

A group of community leaders will check the preparations initiated by Myanmar government and will brief their fellow Rohingyas after returning Bangladesh.

Ali said that there is a misconception among a few stakeholders that Bangladesh was trying to send back Rohingyas against their will.

“If we wanted to send the refugees forcibly, we won’t have allowed them in our country. We have shown a humanitarian gesture to them, so there is no question of sending them back forcibly,” Ali said.

“We will not send a single one of the refugees against their will. Those who will repatriate will go on their own will,” he added.

Talking to Arab News, Abul Kalam, Refugee, Relief and Repatriation Commissioner of Bangladesh said, they have not stopped the repatriation process. It will remain open and if any of the Rohingyas wants to go back home, Bangladesh authorities will initiate repatriation for him or her.

Commenting on the failure of the first attempt at repatriation Kalam said, “Now we need to create more pressure on Myanmar for the completion of some specific tasks to build confidence among the Rohingyas. In the next Joint Working Group (JWG) meeting, we will put up these issues after more scrutiny.”
However, the next JWG meeting date is yet to be fixed, Kalam said.

After a week of tension over feared repatriation, on Friday everything was peaceful in the Rohingya camps at Cox’s Bazar. The refugees who fled from their tents fearing forceful repatriation started returning to their shanties.

“The Myanmar authority wanted to deceive us in the name of so-called repatriation process. If we would have returned on Thursday, they (Myanmar) would never granted our citizenship rights,” said Mohammad Lutfor Rahman, 53, of Jamtoli camp, Ukhia, who fled from his own tent after hearing that he was listed as a returnee in the first group.

Why did the Rohingyas refuse to take the offer to go back home, Rahman was asked. He said, “Myanmar authorities have declared that the repatriated Rohingyas will be kept in the camps for 5 months or more, guarded by armed law enforcers and there were no clear guidelines if we can go back to our original places or villages. So, what is point of accepting a camp life proposal in Rakhine?”

Another refugee, Syed Alam, 37, of Kutupalang camp, told Arab News, “Before any kind of repatriation, our top most priority is the guarantee of citizenship and once it is granted many of our problems will be minimized.”

However, talking about the future course of repatriation, United Nations Human Rights agency, UNHCR spokesperson in Bangladesh, Fairas Al-Khateeb, said, “We will continue to assist the Bangladesh government in assessing the voluntariness for repatriation. Bangladesh and Myanmar have made the deal of repatriation bilaterally, we can’t say when it will actually take place.”