Iran threatens retaliation after what it calls possible cyberattack on nuclear site

Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman in a report published Thursday, July 2, 2020 by the state-run IRNA news agency, said an incident has damaged an under-construction building near Iran’s Natanz nuclear site, but there was no damage to its centrifuge facility. (File/Atomic Energy Organization of Iran/AP)
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Updated 03 July 2020

Iran threatens retaliation after what it calls possible cyberattack on nuclear site

  • The underground Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) is one of several Iranian facilities monitored by inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency
  • Iran’s top security body said on Friday that the cause of the “incident” at the nuclear site had been determined

DUBAI: Iran will retaliate against any country that carries out cyberattacks on its nuclear sites, the head of civilian defense said, after a fire at its Natanz plant which some Iranian officials said may have been caused by cyber sabotage.
The underground Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) is one of several Iranian facilities monitored by inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog.
Iran’s top security body said on Friday that the cause of the “incident” at the nuclear site had been determined, but “due to security considerations” it would be announced at a convenient time.
Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization (AEOI) initially reported an “incident” had occurred early on Thursday at Natanz, located in the desert in the central province of Isfahan.
It later published a photo of a one-story brick building with its roof and walls partly burned. A door hanging off its hinges in the photo suggested that there had been an explosion inside the building.
“Responding to cyberattacks is part of the country’s defense might. If it is proven that our country has been targeted by a cyberattack, we will respond,” civil defense chief Gholamreza Jalali told state TV late on Thursday.
An article issued on Thursday by state news agency IRNA addressed what it called the possibility of sabotage by enemies such as Israel and the United States, although it stopped short of accusing either directly.
“So far Iran has tried to prevent intensifying crises and the formation of unpredictable conditions and situations,” IRNA said. “But the crossing of red lines of the Islamic Republic of Iran by hostile countries, especially the Zionist regime and the US, means that strategy...should be revised.”
Suspicions
Three Iranian officials who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said they believed the fire was the result of a cyberattack, but did not cite any evidence.
One of the officials said the attack had targeted the centrifuge assembly building, referring to the delicate cylindrical machines that enrich uranium, and said Iran’s enemies had carried out similar acts in the past.
Two of the officials said Israel could have been behind the Natanz incident, but offered no evidence.
Asked on Thursday evening about recent incidents reported at strategic Iranian sites, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters: “Clearly we can’t get into that.”
The Israeli military and Netanyahu’s office, which oversees Israel’s foreign intelligence service Mossad, did not immediately respond to Reuters queries on Friday.
In 2010, Stuxnet computer virus, which is widely believed to have been developed by the United States and Israel, was discovered after it was used to attack Natanz facility.
Natanz was built in secret without the IAEA’s knowledge but was exposed by an Iranian opposition group in 2002. Iran acknowledged the sites existence in 2003.
The underground Natanz site remains the centerpiece of Iran’s enrichment program, though Tehran denies ever seeking nuclear weapons, saying its atomic program is only for peaceful purposes.
Iran curbed its nuclear work in exchange for the removal of most global sanctions under an accord reached with six world powers in 2015, but has reduced compliance with the deal’s restrictions since the United States withdrew in 2018.


Trump wrote to Assad about journalist missing in Syria, says Pompeo

In this file photo taken on December 04, 2018, Marc and Debra Tice, the parents of US journalist Austin Tice (portrait L), who was abducted in Syria more than six years ago, speak at a press conference in Beirut. (AFP)
Updated 15 August 2020

Trump wrote to Assad about journalist missing in Syria, says Pompeo

  • In 2018, US authorities announced a $1 million reward for information that would lead to his recovery

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump personally wrote to his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad about the case of journalist Austin Tice, who has been missing since 2012, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday.
“The US government has repeatedly attempted to engage Syrian officials to seek Austin’s release,” Pompeo said in a statement on the eighth anniversary of Tice’s disappearance.
“President Trump wrote to Bashar Assad in March to propose direct dialogue.”
Tice was a freelance photojournalist working for Agence France-Presse, McClatchy News, The Washington Post, CBS and other news organizations when he disappeared after being detained at a checkpoint near Damascus on Aug. 14, 2012.
Thirty-one years old at the time he was captured, Tice appeared blindfolded in the custody of an unidentified group of armed men in a video a month later.
Since then, there has been no official information on whether he is alive or dead.
In March, Trump said the United States had written a letter to authorities in Damascus, without specifying that he himself had written personally to Assad, who Washington wants out of power. At that time, Trump said he did not know if Tice was still alive.

HIGHLIGHT

Tice was a freelance photojournalist working for Agence France-Presse, McClatchy News, The Washington Post, CBS and other news organizations when he disappeared after being detained at a checkpoint near Damascus on Aug. 14, 2012.

“No one should doubt the president’s commitment to bringing home all US citizens held hostage or wrongfully detained overseas,” Pompeo said Friday.
“Nowhere is that determination stronger than in Austin Tice’s case.”
Pompeo said he and Trump hoped there would be “no need for another statement like this a year from now.”
“Austin Tice’s release and return home are long, long overdue. We will do our utmost to achieve that goal,” he added.
A year ago, the US government said it believed Tice was still alive.
His mother Debra Tice said in January that she had “credible information” to that effect, without elaborating.
In 2018, US authorities announced a $1 million reward for information that would lead to his recovery.