Identity Of Men Released For Australian Prisoner Confirmed As Iran Bombers | Iran International

Identity Of Men Released For Australian Prisoner Confirmed As Iran Bombers

Thailand said Thursday it transferred three Iranians involved in a botched 2012 bomb plot back to Tehran, as Iran released an Australian academic who was imprisoned for more than two years on spying charges.

Thai officials declined to call it a swap and Iran referred to the men as “economic activists." But the arrangement acknowledged Thursday freed academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert and saw the three men linked to a wider bomb plot targeting Israeli diplomats return home to a hero’s welcome.

Tehran long has denied being behind the 2012 bomb plot and is hoping for tensions with the U.S. to ease under President-elect Joe Biden.

The bombers wore Iranian flags draped over their shoulders, their faces largely obscured by black baseball caps and surgical masks. It was a sharp contrast to other prisoner exchanges Iran has trumpeted in the past, in which television anchors repeatedly said their names and broadcasters aired images of them reuniting with their families.

Although Iran has withheld the names of the three men, it probably hopes release of foreign nationals it holds on trumped-up charges can increase the chances for the incoming US administration of President-elect Joe Biden to ease US sanctions. Israeli officials declined to immediately comment to the Associated Press on the release.

The plane that carried the men from Bangkok to Iran had a tail number linking it to an Australian private air carrier called Skytraders, which describes itself as a “principal provider of air services to government.” An employee at the company declined to comment when reached by the AP.

Thai police discovered the three Iranians' plot in 2012 when an accidental explosion blew apart their rented Bangkok villa.

With reporting by AP

Iran Asks IAEA Not To Publish 'Unnecessary' Details About Its Nuclear Program

The Islamic Republic has urged the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog not to publish “unnecessary” details on its nuclear program, a day after France, Germany and the United Kingdom warned Iran not to produce uranium metal, which has “no credible civilian use”.

Iran’s state TV quoted [Jan. 17] a statement Sunday from the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) that asked the International Atomic Energy Agency to avoid publishing details on Iran’s nuclear program that may cause confusion.

“It is expected the international atomic energy agency avoid providing unnecessary details and prevent paving ground for misunderstanding” in the international community, the statement said, without elaboration.

Iran announced on January 13 that it intends to produce uranium metal as fuel for a research reactor, prompting concern. Uranium metal is also used in the core of nuclear bombs.

The three European signatories of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran on Saturday called Iran’s move, “the latest planned violation” of the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. 

“Iran has no credible civilian use for uranium metal,” they said in a joint statement. “The production of uranium metal has potentially grave military implications.”

Tehran reacted to the European statement Sunday saying Iran informed the IAEA nearly two decades ago of its plans for the “peaceful and conventional” production of uranium metal. It also said it provided updated information to the agency two years ago about its plans to produce silicide advanced fuel.

The statement said uranium metal is an “intermediate product” in the manufacture of uranium silicide, a fuel used in nuclear reactors that is safer and has more power capability than uranium oxide-based fuel, which Iran currently produces.

With reporting by AP

Iranian Long-Range Missile Lands 20 Miles From Commercial Vessel

Fox News reported that at least one Iranian missile landed 20 miles from a commercial ship and 100 miles away from the American aircraft career USS Nimitz currently located in the Indian Ocean.

American officials have not offered any further information but a source said that although 20 miles distance from a commercial ship is concerning, the United States Navy does not consider it a threat.

According to Fox News, at least once long-range Iranian ballistic missile hit about 20 miles from the commercial ship and two other missiles exploded after hitting the ocean about 100 miles from the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier strike group.

One American official told Fox News: We were expecting the missile launch, but there was concern about just how close Iran was willing to push its limits.”

January 3 marked the one-year anniversary of the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Pentagon had put American forces in the Middle East on alert about the possibility of retaliation from the Islamic Republic.

Earlier this week, in a show of force, an American guided-missile submarine armed with more than 150 Tomahawk cruise missiles cam eclose to Iranian naval exercises near the Strait of Hormuz. 

Nimitz has remained in the northern Arabian Sea on the orders of President Donald Trump.

“Due to the recent threats issued by Iranian leaders against President Trump and other US government officials, I have ordered the USS Nimitz to halt its routine redeployment,” Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller said on January 3.


Iran’s Objection Note To Swiss Embassy For Limitations On Its Diplomats In US

Saeed Khatibzadeh, the spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of the Islamic Republic of Iran announced that the ministry has sent an official “warning” note to the Swiss embassy regarding the restrictions that the US government has enforced on Iranian diplomats and their families in the US. 

Khatibzadeh said the US government has created a lot of restrictions for Iranian diplomats and their families dealing with international organizations. 

He did not offer more explanation but threatened that if the United States does not cease its restricting actions the Islamic Republic will bring a lawsuit to the international court.

The Trump administration last year extended the travel bans to Iranian diplomats. 

According to the ban, Iranian diplomats in the US can only commute between the United Nations, the Iranian Mission’s office to the UN, the residence of the Iranian representative, and the JFK airport. 

Similar restrictions were put on North Korean, Cuban, and Syrian missions to the UN. 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last year mentioned the fact that Iranian officials in the US are free to interview with American media and spread propaganda against the US, but the Islamic Republic would never have him on state-TV. He challenged the Iranian state-TV to invite him on for a live interview. A challenge the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) left unanswered. 

Iran's Currency Rebounds With Hopes Of Biden Reducing Sanctions

The rial jumped 2 percent against the US dollar and other major currencies in trading Saturday on the Iranian foreign currency exchange market. The National Foreign Exchange Bureau (Sarrafi Melli) announced a new dollar rate at 234,000 rials, 4,500 down since Thursday.

In the past week the dollar has fallen 6 percent against the rial, with a similar fall in the value of gold against the rial, in anticipation of a reduction in US sanctions.

President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. The Trump administration withdrew from the agreement and imposed heavy sanctions, driving the Iranian currency eightfold lower.

Some traders believe the rial’s upward trend will stop once US President-elect Joe Biden takes office on January 20, Tejarat News, a financial newspaper, wrote on Friday. But Tejarat News suggested the rial would rise further if Iran could free some of its assets frozen in other countries’ such as South Korea and Iraq and introduce dollars into the market.

Some experts believe the 20-percent drop in the Tehran Stock Exchange (TSE) in the past month could reflect the rise in rial because export-oriented companies listed on the exchange benefit from a low rial. “The dollar may drop to around 200,000 rials, which will cause a further downward trend in the stock market,” Salman Nasirzadeh, investment expert, was quoted by the government news agency IRNA as saying on January 12.

Former Political Prisoner In Iran Rejects US Sanctions-Busting Charges

A former student activist in Iran previously jailed on political charges has issued a statement lambasting the United States for charging him for illegal shipments of banned goods to the Islamic Republic.

Abdollah Momeni, 44, spent five years in Tehran’s Evin prison until 2013 as a leading member of the student movement, which was a driving force behind Iran’s reform movement.

In his statement published by Ensaf News on Friday [January 15], Momeni denied the charges announced January 12 by US authorities and said that while assisting a company in Iran he played a role in obtaining industrial products “through Amazon and Ebay” with no military use.

There are many US sanctions in place against Iran, some imposed in the 1980 and later, and many new sanctions since 2018. These sanctions, among other things, forbid the export of goods to Iran that could be used for military and intelligence purposes.

Momeni was charged alongside Arash Yousefi Jam and Amin Yousefi Jam – both of Ontario, Canada – who allegedly assisted him in acquiring nine electrical discharge boards, one CPU board, two servo motors, and two railroad crankshafts from the US to Iran in violation of economic sanctions. Momeni lives in Iran.

“The defendants deceived US companies, illegally obtained sensitive US items, and transshipped those items through the UAE [United Arab Emirates] to Iran in violation of US law,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers. The charges also include money laundering.

Momeni said that the US has no right to apply its domestic laws to foreign nationals and bring charges without giving them a chance to defend themselves.  He did not refer to his right to have an attorney in the US.


Iran Continues Military Exercises Showcasing Missiles

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) announced Saturday [January 16] that on the second day of missile and drone drills, ballistic missiles were fired at imaginary targets in the northern Indian Ocean at 1,800 km or around 1,200 miles. The IRGC on Friday began the drills in Iran’s central desert, firing missiles and dispatching “bomber drones,” claiming they were able to break through “the enemy’s” air defenses.

State television broadcast a film showing the launch of the missiles, although claims made by Iran’s military cannot be verified since no independent journalists had access to information. The recent US military build-up includes a nuclear-powered submarine armed with 154 Tomahawk Cruise missiles with a 2,700-km range, and the recalled aircraft carrier Nimitz in the nearby Arabian Sea.

Hossein Salami, IRGC commander-in-chief, announced: “One of our important aims is to be able to target the enemy’s vessels, whether aircraft carriers and other warships, with our long-range ballistic missiles.”

The current drills dubbed “The Great Prophet” followed naval exercises on Wednesday and Thursday when the Army’s navy announced the firing of types of missiles and a submarine-launched torpedo. As tensions with the US have increased in recent years, Iran has held many drills in the Persian Gulf region where the US has a string of military bases.

The US Navy has its Fifth Fleet headquarters in Bahrain, a presence established in 1949. The US Air Force command center is in Qatar’s Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar after leaving Saudi Arabia in 2003. US President Donald Trump has drastically reduced the US troop presence in Afghanistan and Iraq to a combined 5,000.

Iran's Ministry Of Health Prevents Contraception For Tribal Areas

Following the vision of Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei for population increase, Iran’s Ministry of Health issued an order that forbids the supply of any type of contraceptive in the nomadic tribal areas of Iran.

The ministry’s decision to prevent contraception is part of the government policy demanded by by Khamenei to increase the population of the country from 83 million to 150 million.

Andisheh Pouya magazine in Iran writes: “The officials in nomadic tribal areas say many women visit health centers to receive contraceptives, but the health centers have been forbidden from providing them due to the order of Health Ministry.”

Women in these tribes are married away at a very young age, and they are forced to bear children without their consent, which is the cause for the significantly high rate of suicide and self-immolation of women in these areas.

Iran’s Ministry of Health has also removed vasectomy and tubectomy procedures from Iran’s health network except in cases of health risks.

The chairman of Population Health and Family at the Ministry of Health says Iran is facing “a population trap” and “for the first time in history, Iran’s population growth has dropped under one percent and the decrease has accelerated in recent years.

Khamenei in 2011 for the first time emphasized the importance of population growth in Iran, and said: “With our capacities, I believe our country can hold 150 million people. Any population control and management must cease until we reach 150 million.”

Iran’s population growth rate in the 1980s reached almost 4 percent, but it was later controlled and brought significantly down with massive population control programs.


US Religious Freedom Commission Condemns Crackdown On Baha’is In Iran

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released a statement condemning the “alarming escalation of government measures targeting Baha’is in Iran on the basis of their faith.”

The statement released on Friday mentions the recent sentence issued by the Iranian Revolutionary Court in the southern province of Hormozgan in December 2020 banning eight Baha’is from participating in religious gatherings and forcing them to attend five “sectarian counseling” sessions at Andisheh Sajjadieh Institute.

Earlier last year, another court declared it illegal for people of Baha'i faith to own land in the town of Ivel, thus excusing 11 criminals who destroyed 50 Baha’i houses in that town in June 2010 and seized the land on which they were built.

“The United States must work with like-minded governments to confront Iran’s severe persecution of the Baha’i community,” said USCIRF Chair Gayle Manchin. “We urge the incoming administration to raise these egregious religious freedom violations as part of any engagement with the government of Iran.”

The Islamic Republic of Iran has labeled the Baha'i faith as a “deviant sect” and has systematically persecuted them since the Islamic Revolution. Baha’is are banned from pursuing higher education, and the security forces shut down their businesses regularly, raid their houses, and arrest them en mass.

Iran recently dropped the “other” option from the religion category of its national ID cards and official registration forms, forcing Baha’is to either lie or be denied this critical ID.

“Iran’s restrictions on holiday observance and attempts to effectively ‘reeducate’ Baha’is place the country among the world’s most notorious religious freedom violators,” said USCIRF Commissioner Gary Bauer. “The United States must hold accountable Iranian government officials who view the vicious persecution of a peaceful religious minority as admirable rather than abhorrent.”

Human Rights In Iran: Prisoner Brothers Still In Solitary, Denied Phone Calls

The Human Rights in Iran Organization reported that after four months, the brothers of executed wrestling champion Navid Afkari, (Habib and Vahid) are still in solitary confinement and being denied phone calls to family.

In its report on Friday, the organization cited anonymous sources saying the security forces “have taken the brothers hostage to control the family.”

According to the source, “once every few weeks they allow them (Habib and Vahid) family visitation, and since these visitations are behind the glass and the conversations are recorded, there is no detail about their condition.”

Navid Afkari was arrested along with his brothers Navid and Habib during the 2018 protests in Iran and was executed by the Islamic Republic in September of 2020 despite international outcry.

Later in the Fall, security forces arrested Navid Afkari’s father and another brother for a few hours, and destroyed his tombstone.

According to one source, the security forces said: “We decide if he is to have a tombstone and what is to be written on it.”

The parents of Afkari brothers wrote a letter to judiciary officials asking them to move their sons from solitary confinement to the general population ward. They mention in the letter that Vahiid and Habib were transferred to solitary and tortured a week before Navid Afkari’s execution.

US Imposes Fresh Sanctions On Iran In Final Days Of Trump Presidency

WASHINGTON, Jan 15 (Reuters) - The United States on Friday sanctioned companies in Iran, China and the United Arab Emirates for doing business with the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines and on three Iranian entities over conventional arms proliferation.

They are the latest in a series of measures aimed at stepping up pressure on Tehran in the waning days of President Donald Trump's administration, which ends on Jan. 20.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington had sanctioned seven companies, including Chinese-based Jiangyin Mascot Special Steel Co. and UAE-based Accenture Building Materials, and two people for shipping steel to or from Iran.

He said Iran's Marine Industries Organization, Aerospace Industries Organization and the Iran Aviation Industries Organization had also been blacklisted over conventional arms proliferation.

Iran has been a focus of Trump during his four years in office as he tried to force Tehran back into talks over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and its activities in the Middle East. In 2018 Trump quit an Iran nuclear deal that Tehran struck with world powers in 2015 to rein in its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief because it did not go far enough.

Trump said he was open to negotiating a much wider pact that would seek more extensive constraints on Iran's nuclear program, as well as limits on its development of ballistic missiles and its sponsorship of militias in regional nations such as Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.

Democratic President-elect Joe Biden, who will succeed Trump on Wednesday, has said he will return to the 2015 nuclear pact if Iran resumes strict compliance with it.