US announces terror sanctions against Iran’s ‘ambassador’ to Houthis in Yemen

Iran's representative, Hasan Irlu, (left) with the Houthis' self proclaimed foreign minister Hesham Sharaf Abdallah in Sanaa in October. (Handout)
Iran's representative, Hasan Irlu, (left) with the Houthis' self proclaimed foreign minister Hesham Sharaf Abdallah in Sanaa in October. (Handout)
Short Url
Updated 09 December 2020

US announces terror sanctions against Iran’s ‘ambassador’ to Houthis in Yemen

US announces terror sanctions against Iran’s ‘ambassador’ to Houthis in Yemen
  • Al-Mustafa International University also targeted for supporting IRGC's Quds Force
  • Iran's official in Yemen Hasan Irlu is operates for 'terrorist' Quds Force

LONDON: The US imposed terrorism-related sanctions Tuesday on Iran’s envoy to the Houthi militants in Yemen.

Despite Iran describing him as an “ambassador,” Hasan Irlu operates for the overseas wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) known as the Quds Force, the US Treasury Department said.

Iran’s Al-Mustafa International University was also targeted with sanctions for serving as a platform for Quds Force operations and recruitment abroad.

Iran-based Pakistani citizen Yousef Ali Muraj was designated for  helping the Quds Force “coordinate, plan and execute operations in the Middle East and United States.”

Iran announced Irlu’s arrival in Yemen’s Houthi controlled capital Sanaa in October. The Iran-backed Houthis seized Sanaa in 2014 forcing the internationally recognised government to flee and sparking the conflict that has devastated the country.

“By dispatching Irlu to Yemen, the IRGC-QF is signaling its intent to increase support to the Houthis and further complicate international efforts to reach a negotiated settlement to the conflict,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said as the sanctions were announced. 

“The IRGC-QF is the Iranian regime’s primary tool to sow chaos and destruction across the Middle East,” Pompeo added. The United States will continue to take action against the IRGC-QF to disrupt its facilitation networks and cut off resources that support the terrorist group’s activities.”

In it’s designation, the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control said Iran’s dispatch or Irlu as an envoy to the Houthis made it the only country to recognise the militia as a government.

“For years, Irlu supported IRGC-QF efforts to provide advanced weapons and training to the Houthis,” the designation said. “He coordinated with other senior IRGC-QF leaders to support the group’s operations throughout the Arabian Peninsula and Yemen.”

Irlu, who appeared with Houthi officials weeks after his arrival in Sanaa, is accused of helping train another Iranian regional proxy - the Lebanese group Hezbollah. 

He also coordinated with Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, who was killed by a US strike in Baghdad in January. 

Al-Mustafa International University, which claims to have branches in more than 50 countries, was sanctioned for helping the Quds Force, which the US and many other countries consider a terrorist organization.

The university allows its student body to serve as an international recruitment network, the designation said.

“The IRGC-QF uses Al-Mustafa University to develop student exchanges with foreign universities for the purposes of indoctrinating and recruiting foreign sources,” it said. “Al-Mustafa has facilitated unwitting tourists from western countries to come to Iran, from whom IRGC-QF members sought to collect intelligence.”

 

Recruits from the university have been sent to fight in Syria for Iranian-backed militias, including too that were made up of Afghan and Pakistani fighters.

The designations mean all property of those designated, as well as any entities that are 50 percent or more owned by them, that fall under US jurisdiction are blocked, and US persons are generally prohibited from dealing with them.

In addition, foreign banks that knowingly facilitate significant transactions for them, or people who provide material support to them, risk losing access to the US financial system.

*With Reuters


Lebanon top politicians agree solution to political tensions, cleric says

Lebanon top politicians agree solution to political tensions, cleric says
Updated 34 sec ago

Lebanon top politicians agree solution to political tensions, cleric says

Lebanon top politicians agree solution to political tensions, cleric says
BEIRUT: Lebanon’s top Christian cleric on Tuesday said the country’s three leading politicians agreed to a “solution” to political tensions and government paralysis tied to high-profile judicial investigations.
“There is a constitutional and legal solution to the current crisis,” Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said during a news conference after a day spent shuttling between the prime minister, the parliament speaker and president.
An official source said the solution involved prosecuting former ministers charged over the August 2020 Beirut port explosion at a special court made up of MPs and judges while allowing blast investigator Tarek Bitar to continue with the cases of lower-level officials.
The special court, formed by a parliamentary vote, has never held any official to account.
Bitar has sought to question top officials including former ministers affiliated with the Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s Amal movement and the Marada Movement, both allies of Iran-backed Hezbollah, which has responded with a smear campaign accusing Bitar of politicizing the probe.
Rai had earlier said after a meeting with Berri that issues had to be resolved “because Lebanon is dying, the people are dying and the state is disintegrating.”
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati has not convened a Cabinet meeting since Oct. 12, pending a solution to the standoff that has paralyzed government for over two weeks.
The dispute spilt over into the Cabinet when ministers allied to those parties called for Bitar’s removal in a heated discussion during the last session.
Rai also said he was “slightly upset” about the summoning of Lebanese Forces party leader Samir Geagea by army intelligence for a hearing over fatal clashes in Beirut’s Ain Al-Remmaneh neighborhood this month.
On Oct. 14, seven people, all followers of Hezbollah and Amal, were shot dead during a Beirut protest the parties organized against Bitar, the worst street violence in more than a decade.
The parties said the seven were killed by supporters of the Christian Lebanese Forces party headed by Samir Geagea, who has backed the blast investigation. Geagea has repeatedly denied the allegations.
Geagea was summoned for a hearing on Wednesday by army intelligence. No other top politician has received such a summons.
On Tuesday, Geagea’s lawyers filed a motion claiming the summons was unlawful, while attorneys representing a number of detainees submitted a motion requesting that Judge Fadi Akiki recuse himself from the case.
A group of Ain Al-Remmaneh residents this week filed a lawsuit against Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, claiming fighters under his command involved in the clashes had undermined “national unity” and committed terrorist acts.
President Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally who has said Bitar’s probe should continue, on Tuesday urged the government to resume Cabinet meetings in order to reach a funding agreement with the International Monetary Fund, widely seen as the only way for Lebanon to access desperately needed international aid.
Rima Zahed, the sister of port blast victim Amin Zahed and a member of a committee representing the families of victims, warned against “any kind of settlement or deal” that infringed upon the reach of the investigation.
“No-one can threaten us with sectarian tensions or the difficult situation the Lebanese people are in. Politicians need to know this,” she said. “There will be no deals made over the blood of our martyrs.”

Iranian pilot exiled in Turkey fears Tehran will assassinate him

Iranian pilot exiled in Turkey fears Tehran will assassinate him
Updated 26 October 2021

Iranian pilot exiled in Turkey fears Tehran will assassinate him

Iranian pilot exiled in Turkey fears Tehran will assassinate him
  • Mehrdad Abdarbashi defected when he was ordered to fight in Syria
  • He was recently targeted by 2 Iranian agents who tried to drug and kidnap him

LONDON: A former Iranian air force pilot exiled in Turkey has said he still feels unsafe after a failed kidnapping attempt last month.

Mehrdad Abdarbashi, a former helicopter pilot who defected from the military when he was ordered to fight in Syria, had previously tried to resign from the armed forces, but Tehran rejected his resignation and seized his passport.

In 2018, he said he received orders to be deployed to Syria on behalf of the Assad regime and decided it was time to flee Iran.

“It was the first time I was being deployed there, and I refused because I did not want to be involved in a proxy war going on there,” he told Al Jazeera.

He is now in hiding in eastern Turkey, and was recently targeted by two Iranian agents who tried to drug and kidnap him.

Turkish intelligence, which had been in contact with Abdarbashi, foiled the plot. The Iranian agents were charged with espionage and conspiracy to commit a crime in a Turkish court earlier this month.

But Abdarbashi said he still fears the Iranian regime will reach him despite Ankara’s protection.

“I don’t think I am safe in any city in Turkey right now. I think Iranian intelligence will come after me, and this time they won’t try to kidnap me, this time they will just kill me,” he said.

“Of course, Turkish police and intelligence are still looking after me. But I still think Iranian agents will somehow reach me.”

Iranian exiles in Turkey are often targeted by Tehran’s agents, who try to kidnap them to bring them back to the Islamic Republic.

In June 2020, Eisa Bazyar, a writer critical of the Iranian regime, was forced into a car in western Turkey and held for two days before he managed to escape.

The following November, Habib Chaab, an Iranian dissident with Swedish citizenship, was seized as he transited through an Istanbul airport.

For a period of time, it appeared that Ankara was complying with and even directly cooperating with Tehran’s attempts to kidnap foreign dissidents and bring them back to Iran.

In two cases, Ankara assisted with the capture and deportation of men sentenced to death for their role in anti-regime protests.

But last year’s war between Azerbaijan — perhaps the nation with the closest ties to Ankara — and Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh appears to have prompted a cooling in relations between Turkey and Iran. Their opposing sides in the Syrian conflict has also proved a more subtle bone of contention.

As relations between the two large Middle Eastern states — which share a long border and have a centuries-old history of Persian-Turkic competition — have declined, Ankara’s cooperation with Iranian intelligence operations on Turkish soil appears to have ceased.

In February this year, Turkish police arrested an Iranian diplomat at the Istanbul consulate in connection with the assassination of spy-turned-dissident Masoud Molavi Vardanjani in November 2019. 


More than 85 Houthis killed near Yemen’s Marib: Arab coalition

More than 85 Houthis killed near Yemen’s Marib: Arab coalition
Updated 26 October 2021

More than 85 Houthis killed near Yemen’s Marib: Arab coalition

More than 85 Houthis killed near Yemen’s Marib: Arab coalition
  • Arab coalition says airstrikes hit 21 Houthi targets, also destroying nine military vehicles

RIYADH: The Arab coalition in Yemen said on Tuesday it carried out 21 attacks targeting “mechanisms and elements” of the Houthi militia in two districts near the strategic city of Marib in the last 24 hours.
The coalition said more than 85 Houthi militants have been killed and nine military vehicles were destroyed in the military operations in Al-Jawba and Al-Kassara.
The coalition added in a statement that it will continue to provide support to the Yemeni National Army to protect civilians from Houthi violations.
The coalition has reported heavy strikes around Marib in recent weeks.
Al-Jawba lies about 50 kilometers south of the city and Al-Kassara is about 30 kilometers northwest.
The Houthis began a major push to seize Marib in February and have renewed their offensive since September after a lull.
(With AFP)


Sudan military leader denies staging coup day after government deposed

Sudan military leader denies staging coup day after government deposed
Updated 26 October 2021

Sudan military leader denies staging coup day after government deposed

Sudan military leader denies staging coup day after government deposed
  • ‘Condemnations are expected as countries see our actions as a coup, it is not’

DUBAI: Sudan’s top military leader Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan denied that the country’s armed forces staged a coup, but instead said they were trying to rectify the path of the transition.
“Condemnations are expected as countries see our actions as a coup, it is not,” Burhan said Tuesday in his televised address.
Burhan, who headed the transitional government through the Sovereign Council, earlier declared a state of emergency and announced the dissolution of the Sovereign Council following the takeover, which deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.
“Hamdok is at my house carrying on a normal life,” Burhan said, but was being kept away for his own safety. The military leader later said Hamdok would be returned to his own home the same day.
“The state of emergency in Sudan will be scrapped as soon as institutions are formed,” Burhan said.
Burhan emphasized that the Constitutional Declaration 2019 had “not been scrapped, only the items pertaining to the civilian partners.”
He said the declaration outlined the transition to the civilian government.
“We are aiming to see through a transition to a civilian government,” he said.
“The mistrust between transitional parties occurred after the signing of the peace agreement in Juba,” Burhan said in his address.
Sudan’s interim government and the Al-Hilu movement, the main rebel group in the country, agreed in March to re-start peace talks in an agreement signed in Juba, the capital of South Sudan.
Burhan said there had been incitement and hostility towards the armed forces, and that danger would had led to a civil war in the country.
He added that he earlier discussed with US special envoy Jeffrey Feltman how to resolve the stalemate between political forces and the army.
Feltman met with Sudanese military and civilian leaders over the weekend in efforts to resolve a growing dispute.
He promised that judicial bodies would be formed in the coming days.
“The armed forces cannot continue the transitional period on its own, we need participation of Sudanese people,” Burhan said.
The military general also said that the legislature that will be formed will include young participants from the revolution.


Possible cyberattack hits Iranian gas stations across nation

Possible cyberattack hits Iranian gas stations across nation
Updated 26 October 2021

Possible cyberattack hits Iranian gas stations across nation

Possible cyberattack hits Iranian gas stations across nation
  • Lines of cars at a Tehran gas station, with the pumps off and the station closeda

DUBAI: Gas stations across Iran on Tuesday suffered through a widespread outage of a government system managing fuel subsidies, stopping sales in an incident that one semiofficial news agency briefly referred to as a cyberattack.
An Iranian state television account online shared images of long lines of cars waiting to fill up in Tehran. An Associated Press journalist also saw lines of cars at a Tehran gas station, with the pumps off and the station closed.
State TV did not explain what the issue was, but said Oil Ministry officials were holding an “emergency meeting” to solve the technical problem.
The semiofficial ISNA news agency, which called the incident a cyberattack, said it saw those trying to buy fuel with a government-issued card through the machines instead receive a message reading “cyberattack 64411.” Most Iranians rely on those subsidies to fuel their vehicles, particularly amid the country’s economic problems.
While ISNA didn’t acknowledge the number’s significance, that number is associated to a hotline run through the office of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that handles questions about Islamic law. ISNA later removed its reports.
Farsi-language satellite channels abroad published videos apparently shot by drivers in Isfahan, a major Iranian city, showing electronic billboards there reading: “Khamenei! Where is our gas?” Another said: “Free gas in Jamaran gas station,” a reference to the home of the late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the outage. However, the use of the number “64411” mirrored an attack in July targeting Iran’s railroad system that also saw the number displayed. Israeli cybersecurity firm Check Point later attributed the train attack to a group of hackers that called themselves Indra, after the Hindu god of war.
Indra previously targeted firms in Syria, where President Bashar Assad has held onto power through Iran’s intervention in his country’s grinding war.
Iran has faced a series of cyberattacks, including one that leaked video of abuses its notorious Evin prison in August.
The country disconnected much of its government infrastructure from the Internet after the Stuxnet computer virus — widely believed to be a joint US-Israeli creation — disrupted thousands of Iranian centrifuges in the country’s nuclear sites in the late 2000s.