Iran seizes ‘foreign’ fuel-smuggling ship, says state media

An Iranian boat on patrol earlier this year. (AFP/File Photo)
An Iranian boat on patrol earlier this year. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 10 September 2022

Iran seizes ‘foreign’ fuel-smuggling ship, says state media

Iran seizes ‘foreign’ fuel-smuggling ship, says state media
  • It is not known when the vessel was seized, or what flag it sailed under

TEHRAN: Iranian naval forces have seized a foreign-registered ship they said was smuggling fuel in the Gulf and arrested its crew, state media reported on Saturday.
“A foreign vessel carrying 757,000 liters of smuggled fuel has been seized,” the state broadcaster’s website quoted a commander of the Revolutionary Guards maritime forces as saying.
“The seven crew members, who are foreign nationals, have been arrested and handed over to judicial authorities,” General Ramazan Zirahi added, without specifying their nationalities.
It is not known when the vessel was seized, or what flag it sailed under.
“The vessel, that intended to transport and deliver its cargo of fuel to other countries, was seized 60 miles off the coast of Iran,” Zirahi said, but did not say whether the cargo originated in the Islamic republic.
Iran has one of the cheapest petrol prices worldwide, which could make smuggling to other countries a lucrative business.
Zirahi noted that the ship was carrying “gasoline,” and said the fight against smuggling, “especially organized fuel smuggling, is one of the priorities of the IRGC’s naval forces to support national production and the dynamism of the economy.”
In recent months Iran has announced several operations targeting fuel smuggling in the Gulf, where a large amount of the world’s oil is produced and shipped.


UN agency warns of record rates of hunger in Syria

Trucks from the World Food Programme drive through the Syrian city of Idlib. (AFP)
Trucks from the World Food Programme drive through the Syrian city of Idlib. (AFP)
Updated 10 sec ago

UN agency warns of record rates of hunger in Syria

Trucks from the World Food Programme drive through the Syrian city of Idlib. (AFP)
  • Child and maternal malnutrition ‘increasing at a speed never seen before,’ World Food Programme says

BEIRUT: The World Food Programme has warned that hunger rates in Syria have soared to record highs after more than a decade of devastating conflict.

A brutal war that triggered years of economic crisis and damaged vital infrastructure has put 2.9 million at risk of sliding into hunger, while another 12 million do not know where their next meal is coming from, the UN agency said.
“Hunger soars to 12-year high in Syria,” as 70 percent of the population might soon be “unable to put food on the table for their families,” the statement said.
“Syria now has the sixth highest number of food insecure people in the world,” the WFP added, with food prices increasing nearly 12-fold in three years.
Child and maternal malnutrition are also “increasing at a speed never seen before,” in more than a decade of war.
If the international community does not step up to help Syrians, it risks facing “another wave of mass migration,” said WFP Executive Director David Beasley during a visit to Syria this week.
“Is that what the international community wants?” he asked, urging donor countries to redouble efforts to “avert this looming catastrophe.”
The UN estimates 90 percent of the 18 million people in Syria are living in poverty, with the economy hit by conflict, drought, cholera and the Covid pandemic as well as the fallout from the financial crash in neighbouring Lebanon.
The conflict in Syria started with the brutal repression of peaceful protests.
About half a million people have been killed, and the conflict has forced around half of the country’s pre-war population from their homes.
Syria’s Foreign Ministry said on Saturday that a report by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons that found the regime was responsible for a chemical weapon attack on the city of Douma in 2018 lacked any evidence, and denied the allegations.
The global chemical weapons watchdog said on Friday a nearly two-year investigation had found that at least one Syrian military helicopter had dropped gas cylinders onto residential buildings in Douma, killing 43 people.
Investigators said there were “reasonable grounds to believe” that at least one Syrian air force helicopter had dropped two cylinders of the toxic gas on the rebel-held town of Douma during Syria’s civil war.
“The world now knows the facts,” said Fernando Arias, chief of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons or OPCW.
“It is up to the international community to take action,” Arias said in a statement.
Damascus and its ally Moscow claimed the April 7, 2018 attack was staged by rescue workers at the behest of the US which afterwards launched airstrikes on Syria along with Britain and France.
The Douma case also caused controversy after leaks from two former employees accused the Hague-based watchdog of altering its original findings to make them sound more convincing.
But the OPCW said its investigators had “considered a range of possible scenarios” and concluded that “the Syrian Arab Air Forces are the perpetrators of this attack.”
Western powers together called on Syria to be held accountable over the “horrific” attack.
“We call on the Russian Federation to stop shielding Syria from accountability for its use of chemical weapons,” said a joint statement by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his counterparts from Britain, France and Germany.
“No amount of disinformation from the Kremlin can hide its hand in abetting the Assad regime.”

 


Iran ‘has executed more than 50 so far this year’

Iranian police officers stand guard in Tehran. (AFP file photo)
Iranian police officers stand guard in Tehran. (AFP file photo)
Updated 28 min 9 sec ago

Iran ‘has executed more than 50 so far this year’

Iranian police officers stand guard in Tehran. (AFP file photo)
  • Activists have accused Iran of using the death penalty as an instrument of intimidation to quell the protests which erupted in September following the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, who had been arrested for allegedly violating the country’s dress code

PARIS: Iranian authorities have executed 55 people in 2023, Norway-based Iran Human Rights said on Friday, adding that the surging use of the death penalty aims to create fear as protests shake the country.
Meanwhile, rights group Amnesty International said three young people sentenced to death over protests — the youngest aged just 18 — had been subjected to “gruesome torture” in detention.
IHR said it has confirmed at least 55 executions in the first 26 days of this year.
Four people have been executed on charges related to the protests, while the majority of those hanged — 37 convicts — were executed for drug-related offenses, IHR said.
At least 107 people are still at risk of execution over the demonstrations after being sentenced to death or charged with capital crimes, the group added.
With Iran’s use of the death penalty surging in recent years, IHR argued that “every execution by the Islamic Republic is political” as the main purpose “is to create societal fear and terror.”
“To stop the state execution machine, no execution should be tolerated, whether they be political or non-political,” said IHR director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam.
He added that a lack of reaction from the international community risked lowering “the political cost of executing protesters.”
Activists have accused Iran of using the death penalty as an instrument of intimidation to quell the protests which erupted in September following the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, who had been arrested for allegedly violating the country’s dress code for women.
UN rights chief Volker Turk has said Iran’s “weaponization of criminal procedures” to punish demonstrators “amounts to state-sanctioned killing.”
On Friday, Amnesty said three men sentenced to death in December had been subjected to torture “including floggings, electric shocks, being hung upside down and death threats at gunpoint.”
IHR and other rights groups have yet to publish figures on executions in Iran for 2022. But IHR said in early December that more than 500 people had been hanged by then — the highest figure in five years — while according to its data, at least 333 people were executed in 2021, a 25 percent increase compared to 267 in 2020.

 


In absence of deterrents, Iran terror plots on Western soil will continue: analysts

In absence of deterrents, Iran terror plots on Western soil will continue: analysts
Updated 28 January 2023

In absence of deterrents, Iran terror plots on Western soil will continue: analysts

In absence of deterrents, Iran terror plots on Western soil will continue: analysts
  • US Justice Department on Friday announced arrests in Tehran-backed plot to kill Iranian-American activist
  • ‘If we continue to handle these cases as just law enforcement matters with a very minimal or nonexistent policy response, we can only expect the Iranian system to continue this vicious cycle,’ analyst tells Arab News

NEW YORK: The US Justice Department’s announcement on Friday of the arrest of three East European men with ties to Tehran in the plot to kill Iranian-American journalist and human rights activist Masih Alinejad has hardly surprised experts and analysts.

The news has recalled many deja-vus of such Iranian activities on American soil, including the 2011 plot to kill then-Saudi Ambassador to the US Adel Al-Jubeir.

Analysts lament the absence of deterrents for Iran, and warn that if stronger actions are not taken, such plots will continue to unfold on US territory.

The three men are now facing murder-for-hire and money-laundering charges for plotting to kill Alinejad.

One of the men was arrested last summer in the Brooklyn neighborhood where Alinejad lives. At the time, he was charged with possessing a firearm after police found an AK-47-style rifle in the back seat of his car along with ammunition.

The incident raised many suspicions then, until the backstory of how it transpired was revealed on Friday.

The Justice Department said in a statement that since at least July, the three men have been “tasked with carrying out” the murder of Alinejad, “who previously has been the target of plots by the government of Iran to intimidate, harass and kidnap” her.

“As recently as 2020 and 2021, Iranian intelligence officials and assets plotted to kidnap (Alinejad) from within the United States for rendition to Iran in an effort to silence (her) criticism of the regime.”

All three of the defendants, Attorney General Merrick Garland said on Friday, are currently in custody.

Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said at a news conference unveiling the charges: “Today’s indictment exposes a dangerous menace to national security — a double threat posed by a vicious transnational crime group operating from what it thought was the safe haven of a rogue nation. That rogue nation is the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Jason Brodsky, policy director at United Against Nuclear Iran, told Arab News that Friday’s arrests demonstrate that “there’s an absence of deterrents with respect to the Islamic Republic operating on US soil, and we have to change that calculus otherwise we can only expect more of these plots in the future.”

On Oct. 11, 2011, two Iranian nationals were charged in a federal court in New York with plotting to assassinate Al-Jubeir.

What became known as the Iran assassination plot or the Iran terror plot involved planning to plant a bomb outside the restaurant where Al-Jubeir was dining, and subsequently to bomb the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Washington, DC.

“These cases are handled as law enforcement matters. They’re handled usually with an indictment, a strongly worded warning and a statement from a senior US official,” Brodsky said.

“And then likely there will be some sanctions levied in the future. And that is, in the long run, not going to change the calculus because the costs are usually, in (Iranian officials’) minds, absorbable. You’re dealing with piecemeal sanctions on individuals who have no assets in the US,” he added.

“You’re dealing with a statement that there’s been so many warnings about, it doesn’t seem to deter them.

“And the indictments usually also don’t necessarily deter. In this case, it’s interesting because they were able to take into custody these three individuals.

“But this will be absorbable for Tehran because these aren’t Iranian officials. These are members of an Eastern European criminal syndicate.”

Stemming Iranian criminal activities on Western territories requires, in the long run, a “multilateral perspective,” Brodsky said. “This is an issue that’s affecting not just the US (but) our European allies as well.”

Last November, two British-Iranian journalists working in the UK for TV channel Iran International were warned by police of a “credible” plot by Tehran to kill them.

The outlet accused Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of being part of a “significant and dangerous escalation” of Tehran’s “campaign to intimidate Iranian journalists working abroad.”

Earlier this month, French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was hit by a cyberattack after publishing a caricature of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

“A digital attack doesn’t leave anyone dead, but it sets the tone. The mullahs’ regime feels in such danger that it considers it vital to its existence to hack the website of a French newspaper,” Charlie Hebdo said.

Hossein Salami, commander in chief of the IRGC, on Tuesday threatened the staff of the French magazine with revenge.

Brodsky said it is important “to start considering a potential kinetic retaliation for these kinds of plots, to deter Iran’s system from going any further.”

He cited yet another indictment that was unsealed last summer, and which charged an IRGC member with a murder-for-hire scheme of a former US national security adviser.

“So if we continue to handle these cases as just really law enforcement matters with a very minimal or nonexistent policy response, we can only expect the Iranian system to continue this vicious cycle,” Brodsky said.

Although the IRGC is designated as a terrorist organization in the US, it is still not listed as such in European jurisdictions. Brodsky said it is of paramount urgency for the EU and UK to do so “and quickly.”

It is “overdue for the IRGC to be sanctioned as a terrorist organization in (European) jurisdictions. It would have a substantive impact in the fact that it would increase market deterrence with respect to the Islamic Republic,” and would ban former IRGC businessmen and their families from profiting off illicit wealth in Western jurisdictions, he added.

Most crucially, designating the IRGC as terrorist would also have a “symbolic” impact, and would be “the signal from the leading democracies of the world that they stand with the Iranian people who were bravely protesting and chanting, ‘Death to the IRGC,’ and it would show that (Europe is) standing with the people and not their oppressors,” he said. “Not to mention the many Arab countries (that) are also victims of the IRGC.”


Troops block roads to stop rival rallies in Beirut port blast case

Troops block roads to stop rival rallies in Beirut port blast case
Updated 28 January 2023

Troops block roads to stop rival rallies in Beirut port blast case

Troops block roads to stop rival rallies in Beirut port blast case
  • The first rally was announced by families of the victims of the Beirut port blast to support investigating judge Tarek Bitar and denounce his dismissal
  • A second protest was called by a group of victims’ relatives who broke away from the families’ movement after being pressured by Hezbollah

BEIRUT: Lebanese army commandos were deployed on Saturday to block roads in sensitive areas after calls for rival rallies in front of the Justice Palace in Beirut circulated on social media.
The first rally was announced by families of the victims of the Beirut port blast to support investigating judge Tarek Bitar and denounce his dismissal.
A second protest was called by a group of victims’ relatives who broke away from the families’ movement after being pressured by Hezbollah and the Amal Movement. Their march was to support prosecutor general judge Ghassan Oueidat, who has brought charges against Bitar over his handling of the inquiry.
A security source told Arab News that “these proactive measures aim to reassure people in anticipation of any attempt to destabilize security.”
On Oct. 14, 2021, the area witnessed bloody events reminiscent of Lebanon’s civil war. Demonstrators supported by Hezbollah and the Amal Movement headed to the Justice Palace to protest against Bitar, where clashes with a rival group resulted in six deaths.
On Saturday, activists gathered in front of the Justice Palace, holding banners demanding politicians stop interfering with the judiciary and calling for the removal of Oueidat.
They also demanded that the judicial formations decree be signed and the legal provisions obstructing the investigation into the port explosion be amended.
Until now, no indictment has been issued, as Bitar was removed from the case following complaints filed against him by politicians charged in the case with “possible intentional killing” and “functional negligence.”
Bitar on Monday resumed the investigation based on his legal interpretation, following a 13-month halt over legal challenges raised by politicians accused in the probe. He also charged more than a dozen senior political, judicial and security officials, including Oueidat.
The recent developments have led to a standoff between the two judges, crippling Lebanon’s judiciary, while the country’s cash-strapped institutions continue to decay.
Families of the blast victims immediately issued a statement warning against “calls aiming to cause violence and bloodshed in the streets.”
A legal source following up on the case of the victims’ families told Arab News that these calls for protest aimed to create confrontation between the families, “so we avoided falling into the trap.”
Nizar Saghieh, Lebanese lawyer and executive director of Legal Agenda, said: “Since the moment Bitar decided to resume his work based on a legal study he conducted, he knew that he will be confronting everyone. He decided to break his silence so he could issue his indictment in the crime.”
Saghieh said that it was weird how security authorities threatened them with civil war whenever they wanted to hold any powerful figure accountable. “We, the people, will remain victims if no one is held accountable.”
Saghieh added: “What is clear now is that judge Bitar is fighting back. They accused Bitar of receiving directions from foreign embassies; however, judge Oueidat was the one to release a US detainee. They accused Bitar of not prosecuting any judge; however, he prosecuted four judges, including judge Oueidat. All the accusations against Bitar have fallen. So what excuses are they going to use to remove him from the case?”
On Wednesday, Oueidat ordered the release of all suspects detained in the investigation into the blast and filed charges against Bitar.
Among those released by Oueidat was Beirut port head of security Mohammed Ziad Al-Ouf, a dual-American Lebanese citizen who eventually left for the US.
Meanwhile, 41 opposition MPs released a statement on Friday denouncing Bitar’s dismissal as lead investigator in the case. The statement is seen as a challenge to Hezbollah and Amal, which support Bitar’s dismissal.
The MPs rejected any “prejudice to the prerogatives of the judicial investigator, by appointing any substitute judge.” They also called for “the resumption of the investigation from the point it reached, as well as a quick issuance of the indictment and its referral to the Judicial Council.”
MP Halima Kaakour said: “The problem is that the political power is interfering with the judiciary, which leads to the degradation of the judicial system, followed by a complete collapse of the state.”
Kaakour added: “Oueidat should be held accountable for his illegal actions aiming to obliterate the investigation.”
MP Bilal Abdallah defended Oueidat, denouncing “any attack against him.”
He said: “Iqlim El-Kharoub, Oueidat’s hometown, will not remain silent against the attacks, accusations and distrust to which he has been subjected.”


Kuwait ‘absolute believer in peace,’ says diplomat

Kuwait ‘absolute believer in peace,’ says diplomat
Updated 28 January 2023

Kuwait ‘absolute believer in peace,’ says diplomat

Kuwait ‘absolute believer in peace,’ says diplomat
  • Country delivers statement before UN Security Council

NEW YORK: A Kuwaiti diplomat has pledged his country’s support for all regional and international efforts aimed at settling disputes peacefully.
Addressing a Security Council session, Kuwait’s First Secretary Fahad Mohammad Hajji was partaking in an open debate called “Investing in People to Enhance Resilience in the Face of Complex Challenges.”
The Kuwait News Agency reported on Saturday that Hajji told the agenda item “Peacebuilding and Peacekeeping” that “Kuwait is an absolute believer in peace constitutionally, as one of the articles of its constitution stipulates that peace is the state’s goal and approach, as preventive diplomacy and mediation, preventing conflicts from arising and settling them by peaceful means are basic pillars of Kuwaiti foreign policy.”
The senior diplomat said that the UN Charter encourages resolving discord through peaceful means, specifically chapter six which sets out steps to end any dispute between conflicting parties.
Hajji added that this would come through negotiations, investigation, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, and judicial settlement, or by resorting to regional agencies and organizations, or other means of their choice.
He called for consideration of methods for effective action to prevent the outbreak of conflicts.
He also stressed the importance of giving regional and sub-regional organizations a greater role in the field of conflict prevention and mediation, in line with the charter, by deepening their strategic partnerships with the UN.