New naval militia unit ‘augments Iran’s regionwide export of terrorism’ 

Special NCRI-US press conference held in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday. (Supplied)
NCRI-US press conference held in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday. (Supplied)
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Updated 03 February 2022

New naval militia unit ‘augments Iran’s regionwide export of terrorism’ 

NCRI-US press conference held in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday. (Supplied)
  • Iranian opposition group details Tehran’s policy of using Quds Force as a special operations tool
  • Mercenaries being recruited from a number of countries for training in attacking maritime targets in the region

WASHINGTON, D.C.: The Iranian opposition group that exposed Iran’s secret nuclear-enrichment facilities in 2002 has released new information on the leadership structure of the Quds Force naval command and the facilities it uses to train and arm Iran’s terror proxies in the Middle East.

The Quds Force is the arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps responsible for extra-territorial operations.

At a press briefing in a hotel in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, the National Council of Resistance of Iran shed light on the importance Tehran places in the Quds Force as an overseas special-operations tool — and the extent to which it is willing to support its terror proxies in Yemen, the Gulf and Iraq.

In light of the new information on recruitment, training and weapon provisions for the Quds Force’s naval militia unit, experts say it is imperative that the talks in Vienna, Austria, over Iran’s nuclear program do not sidestep the issue of the Islamic Republic’s expanding web of proxy forces.

Iran is deeply implicated in Yemen’s seven-year war, where it backs the Shiite Houthi militia in its fight against the internationally recognized government.

In the past fortnight, missile and drone strikes have been launched by the Houthis targeting the UAE, including an attack on Monday during a visit by Israel’s President Isaac Herzog, in an escalation of the conflict with the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen.

“Tehran must be held accountable for its proxy war in the region and the development of ballistic missiles, regardless of the JCPOA negotiations outcome,” Alireza Jafarzadeh, deputy director of the US office of the NCRI, which is outlawed in Iran, told Arab News, referring to the Iran nuclear accord’s formal name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

“This is a very serious threat that needs to be immediately dealt with by Western capitals.

“Missile parts have been provided to Houthis from Iran. There would be no Houthi missile program at all if it weren’t for the Iranian regime. Even if they rename the missiles, the components are produced by the Iran regime to serve its purposes in the region.”

Quds Force units have been ordered by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to train Yemeni Houthi militants in the use of mines, speedboats, missiles and other weapons in secret Iranian bases. Recruits from Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and African countries are also present in these facilities, according to the NCRI’s information.

Jafarzadeh said that the intelligence on Quds Force proxy naval operations was collected by the NCRI’s sources inside Iran. A key goal of Quds Force naval operations is to target commercial ships in the Red Sea and the strategic Bab Al-Mandab Strait that separates Yemen’s coast from the Horn of Africa, according to the disclosures.




The National Council of Resistance of Iran shed light on the importance Tehran places in the Quds Force as an overseas special-operations tool. (Supplied)

The narrow waterway, considered a vital artery of global trade connecting Europe to the Indian Ocean and East Africa, offers a tempting target for Iran’s terror strategists, according to the NCRI.

Jafarzadeh said the importance given to the Houthis by Tehran is evident from the fact that the group’s representative in Tehran was the first foreign official to be granted an audience with Iran’s new president, Ebrahim Raisi, on Aug. 4 last year.

During the press briefing, the NCRI showed what it called an organization flowchart for the Quds Force’s recruiting, deployment and training of naval terrorists. The Imam Ali garrison in Tehran was described as the central nerve center for its proxy-training activities.

The revelations come amid a sharp rise in attacks and covert operations conducted by Iran’s proxies — the Houthis in particular — against Washington’s Arab strategic partners and Israel.

The new information provided by the NCRI suggest that Iran’s ability to supply drones and ballistic missiles to the Houthis is reliant in large part on Quds Force naval operations.

Naval terrorist training takes place in three specialized institutions: Ziba Kenar, on the Caspian Sea, and Farur and Qeshm, two islands in the Gulf.




Missiles being fired as part of five-days military exercises dubbed Payambar-e-Azadm, or “Great Prophet,” held in three provinces. (AFP/Iran's Revolutionary Guard via Sepah News/File Photo)

According to the NCRI, the Ziba Kenar Academy serves as the primary location for naval commando training for the IRGC navy, but its purpose is much bigger than that: It is secretly used by the Quds Force for training proxy fighters.

In January 2020, a group of 200 Yemeni Houthi recruits were brought in for training and sent back with their newly acquired terrorist capabilities. In July 2020 a group of Iraqis received training and sent to the Faw peninsula and Basra to establish an Iraqi militia.

The inclusion of Iraqi Shiite militants alongside the Houthis is significant given that the Iraqi group Alwiyat Al-Waad Al-Haq, an alleged Quds Force front, claimed responsibility for a failed drone strike on Abu Dhabi on Wednesday. Its only other claim was in January 2021, when it said it launched a drone at Saudi Arabia.

“If Alwiyat Al-Waad Al-Haq came out of hibernation and did launch drones at the UAE ... then this was likely an Iran-directed or at very least Iran-tolerated operation,” Michael Knights, of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said in a Twitter post.

The Quds Force is synchronizing the activities of its regional proxies so that they can stage operations from multiple fronts — from the north and south — against the members of the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen, according to NCRI information.

In other details provided by the NCRI:

* Quds Force naval proxy training is overseen by Brigadier General Hassan Ali Zamani Pajooh, an IRGC veteran. Second Admiral Abdolreza Dabestani has been head of the naval academy since 2019.

* Farur Academy is located on a small island near Qeshm. Five miles wide and 9 miles long, it serves as the headquarters for the IRGC navy commando brigade, Abu Abdullah. Iranian officers under the command of IRGC General Sadegh Amoui train terrorist mercenaries from Yemen and Bahrain here.

* The Quds Force Marine training centers on Qeshm includes an underground stockpile of weapons and various missiles. The Quds Force command in Yemen maintains docks in Iran that are exclusively used by its units for facilitating shipments to their terror proxies in Yemen.

The NCRI also believes that the Quds Force sends weapons shipments to the Houthis via Somalia and Horn of Africa— a route that other independent watchdog groups have accused Iran of employing to illegally move weapons to its Yemen proxies.

The smuggling route through Bab al-Mandab and into the Red Sea has been used extensively in the past by the Quds Force to smuggle weapons to terror proxies in Syria, Gaza and Lebanon to launch attacks against Israel. 

The urgency of dealing with the shared security challenges presented by the Quds Force’s proxy naval program has spurred increased security cooperation between Israel and some Arab Gulf countries.

Benny Gantz, Israel’s defense minister, made a surprise visit to Bahrain on Wednesday and the defense ministry announced that he would sign a security cooperation agreement with Bahrain. An offer was earlier made by Israel to strengthen the UAE’s defenses against Houthi missile and drone attacks.

Up until now, the covert nature of the Quds Force terror-training and weapons-transfer schemes has shielded Iran from direct military consequences of the attacks carried out by its proxies.

The NCRI says that weapon deliveries are also made from Iranian ships to smaller Houthi smuggling boats mid-sea in the Gulf of Oman and the Gulf of Aden. The process is more cumbersome but it allows Iran to avoid direct deliveries to Houthis in Yemen’s ports unless highly sensitive weapon transfers are involved.




 Military officials inspecting drones on display prior to a military drone drill at an undisclosed location in central Iran. (AFP/Iranian Army Office/File Photo)

One of the key ports used by Quds Force to deliver weapons to its terror proxies is Bandar e-Jask. The origin of a massive cache of weapons evidently meant for the Houthis interdicted by the US Navy recently was Bandar e-Jask, according to NCRI sources.

“The implications are clear: Iran’s regime is attempting to cover its tracks as it pursues its shadow agenda,” Jafarzadeh said. “All this should be additional evidence that sanctions against the regime should not be lifted. As US Senator Bob Menendez recently said, there has to be a major turnaround in US policy approach to the regime.”

On Tuesday, Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, laid out his concerns over the Biden administration’s latest round of negotiations over the JCPOA. “We cannot ignore Iran’s nefarious support for terrorism or accept threats to American interests and lives. … Iran cannot and must not possess a nuclear weapon,” he said in remarks to the Senate.

The rise in drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE has invited waves of punitive strikes against Houthi military positions in Yemen. However, the Quds Force facilities in Iran — the springboard of these attacks — have remained unscathed.

Israel has conducted regular air strikes against Iranian overland and sea shipments to terror proxies in Syria, while managing to avoid thus far direct conflict with Iran.




The Quds Force is synchronizing the activities of its regional proxies so that they can stage operations from multiple fronts against the members of the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen, according to NCRI information. (Supplied)

On Tuesday, the Biden administration said it was sending fighter jets to assist the UAE after the latest attacks, one of which was aimed at a base hosting American forces and followed the Jan. 17 strike that killed three people in Abu Dhabi.

Analysts say the newly revealed identities of key Quds Force officers and locations of their terror-training centers provide valuable additional pressure points against Iran, which so far has paid hardly any price for its malign regional influence and actions even as it drags its feet in Vienna.

“We know what the Quds Force is doing. We know that it uses commercial vessels as stationary command platforms. These platforms need to be intercepted,” Michael Pregent, a former senior analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency with extensive experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, told Arab News.

“The Biden administration has shown a propensity for defending a regime that uses the Houthi attacks as leverage in the Vienna nuclear talks. It has the capability to respond (to the attacks) but it lacks the will.”


Griner for Bout: WNBA star freed in US-Russia prisoner swap

Griner for Bout: WNBA star freed in US-Russia prisoner swap
Updated 56 min 41 sec ago

Griner for Bout: WNBA star freed in US-Russia prisoner swap

Griner for Bout: WNBA star freed in US-Russia prisoner swap
  • The deal, the second such exchange in eight months with Russia, procured the release of the most prominent American detained abroad
  • “Moments ago, I spoke to Brittney Griner. She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home,” Biden tweeted

WASHINGTON: Russia freed WNBA star Brittney Griner on Thursday in a dramatic high-level prisoner exchange, with the US releasing notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, American and Russian officials said.
The swap, at a time of heightened tensions over Ukraine, achieved a top goal for President Joe Biden, but carried a heavy price — and left behind an American jailed for nearly four years in Russia.
The deal, the second such exchange in eight months with Russia, procured the release of the most prominent American detained abroad. Griner is a two-time Olympic gold medalist whose monthslong imprisonment on drug charges brought unprecedented attention to the population of wrongful detainees.
Biden’s authorization to release a Russian felon once nicknamed “the Merchant of Death” underscored the escalating pressure that his administration faced to get Griner home, particularly after the recent resolution of her criminal case and her subsequent transfer to a penal colony.
The swap was confirmed by US officials with direct knowledge of the negotiations who were not authorized to publicly discuss the deal before a White House announcement and spoke on condition of anonymity. Biden spoke with Griner on the phone Thursday while her partner, Cherelle, was in the Oval Office. The president was to address reporters later in the morning.
“Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner. She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home,” Biden tweeted.
The Russian Foreign Ministry also confirmed the swap, saying in a statement carried by Russian news agencies that the exchange took place in Abu-Dhabi and that Bout has been flown home
Russian and US officials had conveyed cautious optimism in recent weeks after months of strained negotiations, with Biden saying in November that he was hopeful that Russia would engage in a deal now that the midterm elections were completed. A top Russian official said last week that a deal was possible before year’s end.
Even so, the fact that the deal was a one-for-one swap was a surprise given that US officials had for months expressed their their determination to bring home both Griner and Paul Whelan, a Michigan corporate security executive jailed in Russia since December 2018 on espionage charges that his family and the US government has said are baseless.
In releasing Bout, the US freed a a former Soviet Army lieutenant colonel whom the Justice Department once described as one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers. Bout, whose exploits inspired a Hollywood movie, was serving a 25-year sentence on charges that he conspired to sell tens of millions of dollars in weapons that USofficials said were to be used against Americans.
The Biden administration was ultimately willing to exchange Bout if it meant Griner’s freedom. The detention of one of the greatest players in WNBA history contributed to a swirl of unprecedented public attention for an individual detainee case — not to mention intense pressure on the White House.
Griner’s arrest in February made her the most high-profile American jailed abroad. Her status as an openly gay Black woman, locked up in a country where authorities have been hostile to the LBGTQ community, infused racial, gender and social dynamics into her legal saga and made each development a matter of international importance.
Her case not only brought unprecedented publicity to the dozens of Americans wrongfully detained by foreign governments, but it also emerged as a major inflection point in US-Russia diplomacy at a time of deteriorating relations prompted by Moscow’s war against Ukraine.
The exchange was carried out despite deteriorating relations between the powers. But the imprisonment of Americans produced a rare diplomatic opening, yielding the highest-level known contact between Washington and Moscow — a phone call between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov — in more than five months.
In an extraordinary move during otherwise secret negotiations, Blinken revealed publicly in July that the US had made a “substantial proposal” to Russia for Griner and Whelan. Though he did not specify the terms, people familiar with it said the US had offered Bout.
Such a public overture drew a chiding rebuke from the Russians, who said they preferred to resolve such cases in private, and carried the risk of weakening the US government’s negotiating hand for this and future deals by making the administration appear too desperate. But the announcement was also meant to communicate to the public that Biden was doing what he could and to ensure pressure on the Russians.
Besides the efforts of US officials, the release also followed months of backchannel negotiations involving Bill Richardson, the former US ambassador to the United Nations and a frequent emissary in hostage talks, and his top deputy Mickey Bergman. The men had made multiple trips abroad in the last year to discuss swap scenarios with Russian contacts.
Griner was arrested at the Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February when customs officials said they found vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage. She pleaded guilty in July, though still faced trial because admitting guilt in Russia’s judicial system does not automatically end a case.
She acknowledged in court that she possessed the canisters, but said she had no criminal intent and said their presence in her luggage was due to hasty packing.
Before being sentenced on Aug. 4 and receiving a punishment her lawyers said was out of line for the offense, an emotional Griner apologized “for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I brought on them.” She added: “I hope in your ruling it does not end my life.”
Her supporters had largely stayed quiet for weeks after her arrest, but that approach changed in May once the State Department designated her as unlawfully detained. A separate trade, Marine veteran Trevor Reed for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot convicted in the US in a cocaine trafficking conspiracy, spurred hope that additional such exchanges could be in the works.
Whelan has been held in Russia since December 2018. The US government also classified him as wrongfully detained. He was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison.
Whelan was not included in the Reed prisoner swap, escalating pressure on the Biden administration to ensure that any deal that brought home Griner also included him.


Taliban official: 27 people lashed in public in Afghanistan

Taliban official: 27 people lashed in public in Afghanistan
Updated 08 December 2022

Taliban official: 27 people lashed in public in Afghanistan

Taliban official: 27 people lashed in public in Afghanistan
  • The men and women were convicted by three courts in each case and were each lashed between 25 to 39 times

ISLAMABAD: Twenty-seven people were lashed in public on Thursday in a northern Afghan province as punishment for alleged adultery, theft, drug offenses and other crimes, according to an official with the Supreme Court in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
The punishments underscored the intentions by Afghanistan’s new rulers to continue hard-line policies implemented since they took over the country in August 2021 and to stick to their interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia.
A statement from the court said the lashings took place in Parwan province, with 18 men and nine women punished in all.
Abdul Rahim Rashid, an official with the court, said the men and women were convicted by three courts in each case and were each lashed between 25 to 39 times. An unspecified number of those punished also received two-year prison terms in Charakar, the provincial capital, he added.
“There were different cases with different types of punishment, which all were approved by the courts and implemented in a public gathering of locals and officials” said Rashid.
Provincial officials and local residents attended the public lashings, during which officials spoke about the importance of implementing Sharia law in society, added the court statement.
Thursday’s lashings come a day after the Taliban authorities executed an Afghan convicted of killing another man, the first public execution since the former insurgents took over Afghanistan last year.
The execution, carried out with an assault rifle by the victim’s father, took place in western Farah province before hundreds of spectators and many top Taliban officials, according to Zabihullah Mujahid, the top Taliban government spokesman. Some officials came from the capital Kabul.
A separate court statement said that earlier this week, three men convicted of theft were lashed in public in eastern Paktika province.
During the previous Taliban rule of Afghanistan in the late 1990s, the group carried out public executions, floggings and stoning of those convicted of crimes in Taliban courts.
After they overran Afghanistan in 2021, in the final weeks of the US and NATO forces’ pullout from the country after 20 years of war, the Taliban had initially promised to allow for women’s and minority rights. Instead, they have restricted rights and freedoms, including imposing a ban on girl’s education beyond the sixth grade.
The former insurgents have struggled in their transition from warfare to governing amid an economic downturn and the international community’s withholding of official recognition.


Russia says goal of Zaporizhzhia nuclear safety zone is to ‘stop Ukraine shelling’

Russia says goal of Zaporizhzhia nuclear safety zone is to ‘stop Ukraine shelling’
Updated 08 December 2022

Russia says goal of Zaporizhzhia nuclear safety zone is to ‘stop Ukraine shelling’

Russia says goal of Zaporizhzhia nuclear safety zone is to ‘stop Ukraine shelling’
  • Both Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of shelling the plant

The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that the main goal of a proposed safety zone around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine was to “stop Ukraine shelling.”
Both Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of shelling the plant, Europe’s biggest nuclear power station, risking causing a nuclear accident.
The plant has come under repeated shelling since Russia seized it shortly after launching its invasion in February, prompting the IAEA nuclear safety watchdog to call for a demilitarised safety zone around the plant.


15 suspected drug smugglers killed by Thai border patrol

15 suspected drug smugglers killed by Thai border patrol
Updated 08 December 2022

15 suspected drug smugglers killed by Thai border patrol

15 suspected drug smugglers killed by Thai border patrol
  • It is still being investigated whether the suspects had brought the meth in from Myanmar

BANGKOK: Thai soldiers clashed with suspected drug smugglers in a forested area in the country’s north near the Myanmar border, killing 15, authorities said Thursday.
The soldiers encountered the group of suspects carrying backpacks Wednesday evening and ordered them to stop, but they instead opened fire, according to the Pha Muang Task Force, the military unit in charge of security in Thailand’s northern border provinces.
A firefight ensued for about 10 minutes, the agency said. No soldiers were wounded but on Thursday morning when the military returned to inspect the scene in the Fang district of Chiang Mai province, they found 15 suspected smugglers dead and 29 backpacks packed with crystal meth, authorities said.
It was still being investigated whether the suspects had brought the meth in from Myanmar. The route is a common one for drugs being smuggled into Thailand.
The exact quantity of crystal meth seized was also not immediately available, and the task force did not say whether any suspects are believed to have escaped.


Taliban carry out 1st public execution since Afghan takeover

Taliban carry out 1st public execution since Afghan takeover
Updated 08 December 2022

Taliban carry out 1st public execution since Afghan takeover

Taliban carry out 1st public execution since Afghan takeover
  • The execution, carried out with an assault rifle by the victim’s father, took place in western Farah province

ISLAMABAD: The Taliban authorities on Wednesday executed an Afghan convicted of killing another man, the first public execution since the former insurgents took over Afghanistan last year, a spokesman said.
The announcement underscored the intentions by Afghanistan’s new rulers to continue hard-line policies implemented since they took over the country in August 2021 and to stick to their interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia.
The execution, carried out with an assault rifle by the victim’s father, took place in western Farah province before hundreds of spectators and many top Taliban officials, according to Zabihullah Mujahid, the top Taliban government spokesman. Some officials came from the capital Kabul.
The decision to carry out the punishment was “made very carefully,” Mujahid said, following approval by three of the country’s highest courts and the Taliban supreme leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada.
The executed man, identified as Tajmir from Herat province, was convicted of killing another man five years ago and stealing his motorcycle and mobile phone. The victim was identified as Mustafa from neighboring Farah province. Many Afghan men use only one name.
Taliban security forces had arrested Tajmir after the victim’s family accused him of the crime, said a statement from Mujahid, the spokesman. The statement did not say when the arrest took place but said Tajmir had purportedly confessed to the killing. Mujahid added that Tajmir was shot three times by the victim’s father Wednesday with an assault rifle.
During the previous Taliban rule of the country in the late 1990s, the group carried out public executions, floggings and stoning of those convicted of crimes in Taliban courts.
After they overran Afghanistan in 2021, in the final weeks of the US and NATO forces’ pullout from the country after 20 years of war, the Taliban had initially promised to allow for women’s and minority rights.
Instead, they have restricted rights and freedoms, including imposing a ban on girl’s education beyond the sixth grade. They have also carried out public lashings across different provinces, punishing several men and women accused of theft, adultery or running away from home.
The former insurgents have struggled in their transition from warfare to governing amid an economic downturn and the international community’s withholding of official recognition.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed concern about the public execution, reiterating the UN position that “the death penalty cannot be reconciled with full respect for the right to life,” UN associate spokesperson Stephanie Tremblay said.
In comments late Wednesday, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US condemned the public execution.
“We’re closely watching the Taliban’s treatment of the people of Afghanistan,” he said. “As we’ve said both publicly but also in our private engagements with the Taliban, their relationship with us, with the international community depends entirely on their own actions. It depends largely on their actions when it comes to human rights, when it comes to the rights of all Afghans, when it comes to the rights of women, girls, minorities and other marginalized communities in Afghanistan.”

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