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
Iranian-US women’s rights activist Masih Alinejad becomes emotional during an interview in New York on October 6, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 29 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.”

US charges Korean crypto fugitive after reported arrest in Montenegro

US charges Korean crypto fugitive after reported arrest in Montenegro
Updated 24 March 2023

US charges Korean crypto fugitive after reported arrest in Montenegro

US charges Korean crypto fugitive after reported arrest in Montenegro
  • Kwon Do-hyung and five others connected to Terraform are wanted for fraud and the implosion of its digital currencies in May 2022
  • Montenegro’s interior ministry said Thursday the tycoon was apprehended on a South Korean warrant

WASHINGTON: Fugitive South Korean cryptocurrency entrepreneur Do Kwon, accused of orchestrating a multi-billion-dollar fraud that shook global crypto markets last year, has been arrested in Montenegro and faces fresh criminal charges in the United States.
Kwon was arrested along with another South Korean national, Montenegro’s interior ministry said Thursday, which added that the tycoon was apprehended on a South Korean warrant.
“Kwon Do-hyung and Han Chang-joon were arrested and brought to the state prosecutor’s office in Podgorica for the criminal act of document forgery,” an interior ministry statement said.
During passport control for a flight to Dubai the two “used falsified travel documents from Costa Rica, which was established also by Interpol checks,” it said.
Inspection of their luggage also found travel documents from Belgium and South Korea, while Interpol checks discovered that Belgian documents were forged, the ministry added.
Police seized from them three laptop devices and five mobile phones.
Their entry into Montenegro has not been registered, the ministry said.
South Korea has issued a warrant for them for the offense of “criminal association,” it added.
South Korea asked Interpol in September to circulate a “red notice” for the 31-year-old across the agency’s 195 member nations.
Kwon and five others connected to Terraform are wanted for fraud and the implosion of its digital currencies in May 2022.
The US federal indictment charged the 31-year-old Kwon with eight counts, including securities fraud, commodities fraud and wire fraud. The charges follow a lawsuit a month ago from the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
Kwon’s TerraUSD was designed as a “stablecoin,” which are pegged to stable assets like the US dollar to prevent drastic fluctuations in prices.
However, around $40 billion in market value was erased for the holders of TerraUSD and its floating sister currency, Luna, after the stablecoin plunged far below its $1 peg in May last year.
Kwon is accused of “orchestrating a multi-billion-dollar crypto asset securities fraud,” according to the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

Many investors lost their life savings when Luna and Terra entered a death spiral, and South Korean authorities had opened multiple criminal probes into the crash.
Cryptocurrencies have come under increasing scrutiny from regulators across the globe following a string of recent controversies, including the high-profile collapse of the crypto exchange FTX.
FTX and its sister trading house Alameda Research went bankrupt late last year, dissolving a virtual trading business that had been valued by the market at $32 billion.
The fall of FTX has caused major doubts about the long-term viability of cryptocurrency and heaped stress on further platforms and entities that rode the success of Bitcoin and other currencies.
To add to its mounting woes, the digital currency sector has also been hit hard by the demise of US crypto lenders Silvergate and Signature amid a string of banking failures that have rattled global markets and sparked fears of future economic turmoil.

Prince William thanks Poland for generosity to Ukrainians

Prince William thanks Poland for generosity to Ukrainians
Updated 24 March 2023

Prince William thanks Poland for generosity to Ukrainians

Prince William thanks Poland for generosity to Ukrainians
  • The heir to the throne’s visit to Poland underscores Britain’s support for both Ukraine and Poland
  • The UK has been one of the most outspoken supporters of bolstering NATO’s eastern flank in the face of Russia’s aggression


WARSAW, Poland: Britain’s Prince William paid tribute on Thursday to Poles who lost their lives in past wars, and expressed gratitude to the nation for what it is doing today to provide humanitarian and military support to Ukraine.
The heir to the throne’s visit to Poland underscores Britain’s support for both Ukraine and Poland, an ally on the front line of efforts to help refugees displaced by Russia’s war and to assist the Ukrainian military in fighting off the invasion.
William laid a wreath in Poland’s national colors, white and red, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and bowed his head solemnly. The memorial honors Poles who lost their lives in wars including World War II, when Polish and British soldiers were allies.
A note on the wreath that he left read: “In memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
He later headed to the presidential palace for a meeting with President Andrzej Duda, who has been a prominent ally of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago. Duda’s office said their talks focused on humanitarian aid for Ukraine.
“The Prince of Wales thanked the Poles for their generosity and hospitality,” Duda’s office said.
In the final stop on his two-day visit, the prince then went to a trendy food hall where he met with young Ukrainians working or continuing their studies in Poland.
William began his surprise visit Wednesday by meeting with British and Polish troops in Rzeszow, a city of 200,000 people in southeastern Poland that has become a hub for shipments of military and humanitarian aid bound for Ukraine.
“I just wanted to come here in person to say thank you for all that you’re doing, keeping everyone safe out here and keeping an eye on what’s going on,″ William said as he spoke to the troops.
He later traveled to a center in Warsaw that houses about 300 recent arrivals from Ukraine, meeting Ukrainians and playing table tennis with children.
The UK has been one of the most outspoken supporters of bolstering NATO’s eastern flank in the face of Russia’s aggression. The country sent troops to Poland and the Baltic states and provided more than 2.3 billion pounds ($2.8 billion) of military aid to Ukraine. It also has pledged 220 million pounds ($269 million) of humanitarian assistance.
Deploying the popular 40-year-old prince, a military veteran who also worked as a civilian air-sea rescue pilot, offers a more personal touch. While British political leaders have visited Poland regularly to trumpet their support for NATO and the Ukrainian cause, a senior royal like William is a symbol of the nation who can thank military personnel for their service without the baggage of party politics.

US lawmakers turn focus to plight of Uyghurs in China

US lawmakers turn focus to plight of Uyghurs in China
Updated 24 March 2023

US lawmakers turn focus to plight of Uyghurs in China

US lawmakers turn focus to plight of Uyghurs in China
  • Female Uyghur detainees were held by the thousands, heads shaved, tortured and gang-raped, witness testifies
  • China is accused of sweeping over a million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minority groups into detention camps

WASHINGTON: Two women who experienced life in Chinese “reeducation” camps for Uyghurs told lawmakers Thursday of lives under imprisonment and surveillance, rape and torture as a special House committee focused on countering China shined a light on human rights abuses in the country.
Qelbinur Sidik, a member of China’s ethnic Uzbek minority who was forced to teach Chinese in separate detention facilities for Uyghur men and women, told lawmakers of male Uyghur detainees held chained and shackled in cells so tiny they had to crawl out when authorities summoned them. “They were called by numbers for interrogations. And then you would hear horrible screaming sounds from torture,” she said.
Innocent female Uyghur detainees were held by the thousands, heads shaved, in gray uniforms, Sidik said. Guards tortured the women by electric shocks and by gang rape, sometimes combining both. “And I have witnessed an 18- to 20-year-old girl” slowly bleed to death from the treatment, Sidik said.
Reeducation camps intended to drain the Uyghur inmates of their language, religious beliefs and customs forced men and women into “11 hours of brainwashing lessons on a daily basis,” testified Gulbahar Haitiwaji, a Uyghur who spent more than two years in two reeducation camps and police stations.
“Before eating, we have to praise them, say that we are grateful ... for China’s Communist Party and we are grateful for (President) Xi Jinping,” Haitiwaji said. “And after, to finish eating, we have to praise them again.”
Accused of “disorder” and detained with 30 to 40 people in a cell meant for nine, the Uyghur woman said, she and other female detainees were chained to their beds for 20 days at one point.
Detention left her gaunt. Freed and sent to France thanks to a pressure campaign by her family there in 2019, she was given more food by Chinese authorities before her release, so her appearance would not speak of her mistreatment.
In parting, Chinese officials warned Haitiwaji that “whatever I had witnessed in the concentration camp I should not talk about it,” she said. “If I do, they will retaliate against my family back home.”
The US and many other governments, the United Nations, and human rights groups accuse China of sweeping a million or more people from its Uyghur community and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minority groups into detention camps, where many have said they were tortured, sexually assaulted, and forced to abandon their language and religion. China denies the accusations, which are based on evidence including interviews with survivors and photos and satellite images from Uyghur’s home province of Xinjiang, a major hub for factories and farms in far western China.
“For a long time, some US politicians have repeatedly used Xinjiang-related issues to stir up rumors and engage in political manipulation under the pretext of human rights, in an attempt to tarnish China’s image and curb China’s development,” said Liu Pengyu, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington.
The Chinese government’s actions in Xinjiang were about “countering violence, terrorism, radicalization and separatism,” the embassy spokesman insisted.
The accusations also include draconian birth control policies, all-encompassing restrictions on people’s movement and forced labor.
The early focus on the plight of Uyghurs by the Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party is designed to show the Chinese government’s true nature, said Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, the committee’s Republican chairman.
“They are the first-hand witnesses to the systemic, unimaginable brutality, witnesses to the attempted elimination of a people, a culture, a civilization,” Gallagher said Thursday.
In advance of the hearing, human rights experts talked about the importance of focusing on treatment of the Uyghurs, including Elisha Wiesel. He is the son of the late Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and the author of the memoir “Night” about his experiences during the Holocaust and living in concentration camps.
“Looking at the world stage right now, it’s clear to me that there is no crime on such a massive scale taking place as what’s taking place with the Uyghur people,” Wiesel said.
Wiesel said that both the Trump and Biden administrations had been active on the topic, and pointed to passage of a bill on forced labor and sanctions against companies shown to be using forced labor of Uyghurs. “This is exactly the sort of pressure that needs to be continued,” he said.
Laura Murphy, a researcher at Sheffield Hallam University in the United Kingdom, specializes in American businesses that draw on forced labor. She said it was important for the United States to keep identifying and penalizing companies using Uyghur forced labor.
“Most companies ... they not only don’t know, they intentionally don’t know,” Murphy said.
Outside of the sectors of cotton and components of solar panels, two industries in China that the US and others say relies heavily on forced labor by detained Uyghurs, companies that draw on supplies from China “would prefer not to look into it,” she said.
“So long as businesses continue to do business with the Uyghur region ... they are financing a genocide,” Murphy said.
The US should step up legislation rewarding companies that have shown they make no use of Uyghur forced labor, in terms of access to US markets, and increase information-sharing on companies that haven’t, she said.
The hearing also comes following Chinese President Xi Jinping’s trip to Russia to show support for President Vladimir Putin, underscoring just how badly US relations with China have deteriorated.
“What we’re seeing here is increasingly a de facto alliance against America and our allies to try and undercut our interests,” Gallagher said.
The formation of the special China committee this year was a top priority of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., but close to 150 Democrats also voted for the committee’s creation, and its work has been unusually bipartisan so far.
“This hearing is important because what happens to the Uyghur community in China impacts Americans at home,” said the committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois. “It’s in the goods produced with slave labor, it’s the degradation of human rights that makes the world less safe, and it’s the ceaseless persecution of Uyghurs abroad that includes those living in America.”
Haitiwaji, the ethnic Uyghur woman testifying before the committee, said she is speaking out because she feels an obligation to speak for those still languishing in detention centers. She is calling on lawmakers to follow the example of Canada, which has adopted a policy of accepting 10,000 Uyghur refugees from around the world.
“Please rescue Uyghur and other Turkic refugees, like Canada has done,” she said in her prepared remarks. “Please stop American companies from continuing to be complicit in surveilling our people and profiting from their labor.”

Biden arrives in Canada to discuss trade, migration challenges

Biden arrives in Canada to discuss trade, migration challenges
Updated 24 March 2023

Biden arrives in Canada to discuss trade, migration challenges

Biden arrives in Canada to discuss trade, migration challenges

OTTAWA: US President Joe Biden arrived Thursday in Canada where he will meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and address parliament, with reports that a deal has been struck on managing undocumented migration across the neighbors’ long border.
Trade, Canada’s anemic defense spending, and a potential international force to stabilize troubled Haiti are expected to be on the agenda in the events set largely for Friday.
As Biden flew north, there were reports that another hot button issue in the otherwise smooth relationship had been resolved through a deal to clamp down on undocumented migration by asylum seekers passing through the United States into Canada.
According to The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, Canada will be able to stop illegal migrants at the Roxham Road crossing point on the frontier between New York state and Quebec.
The flow of migrants there has been a source of irritation in domestic Canadian politics, much as it is in Washington concerning illegal entries across the US-Mexico border.
The reports said that Canada has agreed in return to take in some 15,000 asylum seekers from Latin America through legal channels, a move that will ease the pressure on the southern US border.
Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre would not confirm the news but said “we will hear more about it from the president and the prime minister tomorrow.”
Ahead of the visit, the two sides stressed their close integration.
“I think that’s going to be the theme of this visit, that we are there making each other stronger and better,” Canada’s ambassador to the United States, Kirsten Hillman, told CBC.
But only modest, if any, progress is expected on tensions over Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act — a massive program to subsidize and kick start US-based development of electric vehicles and other clean energy products.
“We are looking for more inclusion in exactly those things,” a senior Canadian government official told reporters.
“We want a North America that is globally competitive, so that our two economies which are already so integrated, where so many businesses and jobs and supply chains rely on each other, can compete with the world and can be successful together.”
Another expected item on the agenda is the financing of the neighbors’ mutual defense pacts, both as members of NATO and their joint air defense system for North America, named NORAD.
The US government has been pressuring Canada to increase its defense spending, which in 2022 was just 1.33 percent of GDP. This is scheduled to rise to 1.59 percent from 2026 but that’s still well below the NATO alliance requirement of minimum two percent of GDP spending.
Jean-Pierre praised Canada’s contributions to the Western alliance helping Ukraine to fend off Russian invasion but said regarding the budget, “I’m sure that conversation will come up.”
Earlier Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Biden and Trudeau would discuss pleas from Haiti’s leaders for an international force to bring order to the impoverished Caribbean nation, where the authorities are unable to subdue armed gangs.

Violence flares as French protesters vent fury at Macron reform

Violence flares as French protesters vent fury at Macron reform
Updated 24 March 2023

Violence flares as French protesters vent fury at Macron reform

Violence flares as French protesters vent fury at Macron reform

PARIS: Protesters clashed with French security forces Thursday in the most serious violence yet of a three-month revolt against President Emmanuel Macron’s hugely controversial pension reform.
Almost 150 police were injured and scores of protesters arrested nationwide, the government said, as a day of protests descended into chaos in several cities including Paris, where protesters lit fires in the historic center of the city.
The uproar over the imposition of the reform — which the government chose to push through without a parliamentary vote — has turned into the biggest domestic crisis of Macron’s second term in office.
It also threatens to cast a shadow over King Charles III’s visit to France next week, his first foreign state visit as British monarch. Unions have announced fresh strikes and protests for Tuesday, the second full day of his trip.
In the southwestern city of Bordeaux, which King Charles is due to visit on Tuesday, the porch of the city hall was briefly set on fire.

The numbers in Paris and other cities were higher than in previous protest days, given new momentum by Macron’s refusal in a TV interview Wednesday to back down on the reform.
Police and protesters again clashed on the streets of the capital during a major demonstration, security forces firing tear gas and charging crowds with batons.
Some protesters lit fires in the street, setting ablaze pallets and piles of uncollected rubbish, prompting firefighters to intervene, AFP correspondents said.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said that across France, 149 members of the security forces had been injured and at least 172 people arrested, including 72 in Paris.
Around 140 fires were set alight in Paris, said Darmanin, blaming “thugs” for the violence, who had come to Paris “to have a go at the cops and public buildings.”
Some 1.089 million protesters took part in demonstrations across France, the interior ministry said, putting the Paris turnout at 119,000, the highest for the capital since the movement started in January.
The nationwide figure still fell short of the 1.28 million people who marched on March 7, according to the government figures.
Unions claimed a record 3.5 million people had protested across France, and 800,000 in the capital.

In Paris, several hundred black-clad radical demonstrators were breaking windows of banks, shops and fast-food outlets, and destroying street furniture, AFP journalists witnessed.
In the northeastern city of Lille, the local police chief Thierry Courtecuisse was lightly injured by a stone.
In Paris, a video went viral of a police officer in helmet and body armor being knocked unconscious and plunging to the ground after being hit on the head by a stone.
The garbage that has accumulated in the streets due to strikes by refuse collectors proved an appealing target, protesters setting fire to the trash piled up in the city center.
“It is a right to demonstrate and make your disagreements known,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Twitter, but added: “The violence and destruction that we have seen today are unacceptable.”
Unions again appealed for peaceful protests. “We need to keep public opinion on side until the end,” said Laurent Berger, leader of the moderate CFDT.
Protesters briefly occupied the tracks at the Gare de Lyon train station in Paris, and some blocked access to Charles de Gaulle airport.
Anger surged after a defiant Macron said on Wednesday he was prepared to accept unpopularity over the pensions reform which he said was “necessary.”
Even before then, a survey on Sunday showed Macron’s personal approval rating at just 28 percent, its lowest since the anti-government “Yellow Vest” protest movement in 2018-2019.

Acting on Macron’s instructions, Borne last week invoked an article in the constitution to adopt the reform without a parliamentary vote. That sparked two no-confidence motions in parliament, which she survived — but one by a narrow margin.
Thursday’s protests were the latest in a string of nationwide stoppages that began in mid-January against the pension changes.
The ministry of energy transition on Thursday warned that kerosene supply to the capital and its airports was becoming “critical” as blockages at oil refineries continued.
Since the government imposed the reform last Thursday, nightly demonstrations have taken place across France, with young people coordinating their actions on encrypted messaging services.
There have been hundreds of arrests and accusations of heavy-handed tactics by police.
Amnesty International has expressed alarm “about the widespread use of excessive force and arbitrary arrests reported in several media outlets.”
King Charles is due to arrive Sunday, with a trip scheduled on the new strike date of Tuesday to Bordeaux.
The fire at the entrance to the city hall in Bordeaux damaged its massive wooden door and was put out after 15 minutes, mayor Pierre Hurmic said.
French public sector trade unionists have warned they will not provide red carpets during the visit, but non-striking workers are expected to roll them out.