Iran says it foiled ‘massive terrorist attack’ by Sunni militants

TehranIranian intelligence officials said on Monday that they foiled “one of the largest terrorist attacks ever planned” against the country, allegedly plotted by Sunni militants aiming to inflict mass casualties during the month of Ramadan. A statement by the Islamic Republic’s Ministry of Intelligence said that the attacks had been planned to take place simultaneously in the capital Tehran and several other Iranian cities. Iranian state-owned news agencies reported that an unspecified number of suspects had been arrested and were under interrogation by the authorities.

The statement by the Intelligence Ministry provided few details, but said that the suspects were arrested in several raids conducted across Iran. It added that “a great deal of explosives and ammunition” were confiscated in the raids. The Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), which has close links with the Iranian government, said that the raids were personally coordinated by Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani. Shamkhani is secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, which is effectively the country’s national security council. Another government-controlled news agency, Fars, said that the terrorist plot aimed to attack civilian targets during the holy month of Ramadan, which is the most revered time on the Muslim religious calendar. Iran’s official state news agency, IRNA, reported on Monday that the attacks had been planned for last Thursday, a day in the Iranian religious calendar when festivities are held to commemorate the death of Khadija bint Khuwaylid, the first wife of the Prophet Mohammed.

None of the media reports identified those who were allegedly connected with the planned attacks. However, the reports repeatedly used the term ‘takfir’, a derogatory epithet used to describe Muslims who display militancy against those whom they consider to be ‘unbelievers’. The term is frequently employed by state-owned Iranian media to refer to the followers of the Islamic State, which Iran has been battling for over a year in support of the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad. However, IRNA referred to the alleged plotters as “Wahhabi takfiris”, possibly implying a link with Saudi Arabia, where Wahhabism is the state-promoted religious dogma. Relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia have sunk to unprecedented lows in recent years. Last month, Iran said it would not allow religious pilgrims to visit Saudi Arabia for the annual hajj pilgrimage, because the Saudi authorities had not responded to Tehran’s requests to provide security for Iranian pilgrims.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 21 June 2016 | Permalink

Revealed: Iran’s Khomeini had secret dealings with US in 1979

KhomeiniNewly declassified files show that Ayatollah Khomeini, who led Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, had a secret channel of communication with the United States, and even sent a personal letter to US President Jimmy Carter. On January 16, 1979, after nearly a year of street clashes and protests against his leadership, the king of Iran, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, fled the country for the US. His decision to leave was strongly influenced by his American advisors, who feared that Iran was heading toward a catastrophic civil war. The Shah’s departure did little to calm tensions in the country. Protesters —many of them armed— engaged in daily street battles with members of the police and the military, who remained loyal to Pahlavi. Meanwhile, a national strike had brought the Iranian oil sector to a standstill, thereby threatening to bring about a global energy crisis. Moreover, the country was home to thousands of American military advisors and the Iranian military was almost exclusively funded and supplied by Washington. The Carter administration worried that the weaponry and technical knowledge might fall into the hands of a new, pro-Soviet government in Tehran.

It was in that tense and highly unpredictable context that the White House opened a secret channel of communication with Ayatollah Khomeini. Newly declassified US government documents show that these secret contacts began on January 15, 1979, just days before Khomeini returned to Iran from France, where he had been living in exile. The files have been accessed by the BBC’s Persian service, and allegedly contain “diplomatic cables, policy memos, meeting records” and other documents. They show that the first meeting between US government officials and Khomeini’s team took place in Neauphle-le-Château, a small village located a few miles west of Paris. It was led by Warren Zimmermann, a political secretary at the US embassy in Paris, and Ebrahim Yazdi, an Iranian-American physician who was Khomeini’s chief of staff in France. Through these secret meetings, Washington signaled to Khomeini on January 18 that American advisors in Tehran would not oppose a discussion about changing the Iranian constitution in order to abolish the monarchy and turn the country into a republic.

Khomeini letterNine days later, on January 27, Dr. Yazdi gave Zimmerman a letter written by Khomeini and addressed to President Carter. The letter, which addressed Carter in the first person, was cabled to the Department of State from the US embassy in Paris and, according to the BBC, reached the US president. In the letter, Khomeini promises to protect “America’s interests and citizens in Iran” if Washington pressured the Iranian military to stand aside and allow him and his advisers to return to Iran. Khomeini’s fear was that the royalist Iranian military would not allow a new government to take hold in Tehran. But the exiled cleric was aware of America’s influence in Iranian military circles, which at the time were effectively under the command of General Robert Huyser, Deputy Commander of US Forces in Europe, who had been dispatched to Tehran by President Carter. Before answering Khomeini’s letter, the White House sent a draft response to the embassy in Tehran for input and advice. But Khomeini did not wait for Washington’s response. On February 1, he returned to Iran, where he was greeted by millions of people in the streets and welcomed as the next leader of the country. Meanwhile, Washington had already instructed General Huyser to rule out the so-called “option C”, namely a military coup carried out by the Iranian armed forces.

The documents unearthed by the BBC show that, despite their apparent recalcitrance, the US government and Ayatollah Khomeini were far more engaged with each other than has generally been assumed. The revelations would appear to especially affect the official narrative of the Islamic Republic, which claims that Khomeini managed to take command of the Islamic Revolution despite frantic attempts by Washington to stop him. Perhaps not surprisingly, Tehran has dismissed the BBC’s revelations, calling the documents “fake” and denouncing what it described as “hostility from the British”. The Department of State has refused comment on the BBC’s revelations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 June 2016 | Permalink

Late Taliban leader’s regular trips to Iran helped US spies track him down

Mullah Akhtar Mohammad MansourFrequent trips to Iran caused the demise of the late leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, who was killed in a secret American operation on May 21. The death of Mansour, who had led the Afghan Taliban since July 2015, when he succeeded Mullah Mohammad Omar, was announced by the Taliban on May 26. Early reports stated that Mansour was killed while traveling to the Pakistani city of Quetta from Iran. He is believed to have been visiting family or seeking medical treatment in Iran, which he appears to have entered using a forged passport.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the United States found out in February that Mansour made regular trips to Iran, as well as the precise route that the Taliban leader took to enter the country. American intelligence agencies also received “details about the devices [Mansour] used for communications” while in Iran. They then intercepted communications from Iran that matched Mansour’s electronic signature and followed these signals across the border into Pakistan. The Taliban leader entered Pakistan’s Baluchistan province on Saturday, May 21. Once in Pakistan, Mansour entered a Toyota Corolla, believed to be a taxi, and made his way through the N-40 National Highway, heading to Quetta.

The Journal report states that the Taliban were aware that Baluchistan’s airspace is outside the Central Intelligence Agency drones’ operational area, and thus “felt more comfortable there”. Indeed, the paper claims that no CIA drones were actively targeting Mansour at the time. However, US President Barack Obama had given ordered the Joint Special Operations Command to have the Taliban leader killed. Reaper drones were deployed to launch two Hellfire missiles at Mansour’s car, which was totaled, killing the Taliban commander and his driver. According to the Journal, the White House had decided to ambush Mansour before he entered the city of Quetta, in order to prevent civilian casualties. After firing at it, the American drones hovered over the remains of Mansour’s vehicle to ensure that there were no survivors, before exiting Pakistani airspace.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 30 May 2016 | Permalink

France seizes ship with ‘hundreds of weapons’ heading for Yemen

Combined Maritime ForcesThe United States says a ship carrying hundreds of weapons, which was captured by the French Navy in the Indian Ocean, originated from Iran, and that the cargo was destined for Yemeni rebels through Somalia. The ship was seized on March 20 by a French warship patrolling the Indian Ocean as part of the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF). The CMF is a multinational naval fleet that aims to implement United Nations sanctions on Somalia. The sanctions are designed to frustrate the activities of al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda-linked Somali militant group, and to put an end to maritime piracy in the Horn of Africa.

The ship carrying the weapons is believed to have been initially spotted by a French helicopter that was conducting surveillance flights in support of CMF’s mission. Soon after boarding the ship, French forces discovered large amounts of weaponry. A statement posted on the CMF website said that the ship was found to be carrying “several hundred AK47 assault rifles, machine guns and anti-tank weapons”. The French Ministry of Defense said that the vessel was not registered to any country and that the crew of 10 was multinational. All crew members were released after being questioned by their French captors.

An assessment of the ship’s capture by the US Department of Defense states that the arms shipment probably originated in Iran and that it was heading to Somalia. However, the most likely final destination of the cargo was not al-Shabaab, but Houthi rebels in Yemen. Iran is known to be supporting and funding Houthi rebels, who are Shiite and are fighting a bitter civil war against the country’s Saudi-supported Sunni government.

It is worth noting that the recent capture of the unregistered vessel is the third such seizure of a large cache of weapons heading for Yemen through Somalia since September. In the previous most recent case, an Australian Navy ship sailing off the coast of Oman intercepted a large cache of weapons being transported to Yemen. US sources speculated that the intercepted ship originated from Iran and was heading to Yemen.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 31 March 2016 | Permalink

Russian-Iranian alliance over Syria is not as strong as some believe

Rouhani PutinThe governments of Russia and the Islamic Republic of Iran are arguably the two most important allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But the Russian-Iranian alliance over Syria is not as solid —and may not be as durable— as some believe. On Monday, Iranian news agency ISNA reported that Iran’s minister for intelligence condemned Russia’s increased military involvement in Syria and said it would weaken Iran’s security. The minister, Mahmoud Alavi, opined at a press conference in Tehran that the intensification of Russia’s military operations in Syria would backfire against Iran, because it would prompt the Islamic State to “redouble its efforts to destabilize Iran’s security”.

Alavi’s comments came two weeks after Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps said that Iran cared about the stability of al-Assad’s regime in Syria more than Russia did. Jafari was responding to earlier comments made by Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who said that Moscow would not insist in keeping al-Assad in power in Damascus as a matter of principle. When asked to comment on Zakharova’s comments, Jafari said Iran had to accept that Russia “may not care if al-Assad stays in power as we do”. The difference between Tehran and Moscow, said Jafari, was that “we don’t know any better person to replace him”.

So does that spell changes in the dynamics of the Russian-Iranian alliance over Syria? Such an eventuality should not be discounted, says Sergey Aleksashenko, nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He explains that, although both the Russians and the Iranians have aided al-Assad, their reasons for doing so are very different. Russia’s interests in Syria center on maintaining access to its naval base in Tartus, and on retaining a geopolitical presence in the Middle East. Iran’s support for Assad aims to prevent Tehran’s traditional foes, namely Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, from turning Syria into their protectorate. Additionally, says Aleksashenko, Iran appears much more willing to deploy ground troops in the fight against ISIS than Russia. The Islamic Republic is also much more willing to go against the wishes of other regional powers, like Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which Moscow tends to court.

Ultimately, says Aleksashenko, “although Russia has strategic interests in Syria, it has no intention to keep a military presence in the Middle East forever”. The Iranians, however, have no choice but to dwell in one of the world’s most unstable regions. Al-Assad’s removal would add significantly to that instability, and that is not something that Tehran is willing to permit.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 18 November 2015 | Permalink

Security firm says it shut down extensive Iranian cyber spy program

IRGC IranA security firm with headquarters in Israel and the United States says it detected and neutralized an extensive cyber espionage program with direct ties to the government of Iran. The firm, called Check Point Software, which has offices in Tel Aviv and California, says it dubbed the cyber espionage program ROCKET KITTEN. In a media statement published on its website on Monday, Check Point claims that the hacker group maintained a high-profile target list of 1,600 individuals. The list reportedly includes members of the Saudi royal family and government, American and European officials, North Atlantic Treaty Organization officers and nuclear scientists working for the government of Israel. The list is said to include even the names of spouses of senior military officials from numerous nations.

News agency Reuters quoted Check Point Software’s research group manager Shahar Tal, who said that his team was able to compromise the ROCKET KITTEN databases and acquire the list of espionage targets maintained by the group. Most targets were from Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States, he said, although countries like Turkey and Venezuela were also on the list. Tal told Reuters that the hackers had compromised servers in the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands, and that they were using these and other facilities in Europe to launch attacks on their unsuspecting targets. According to Check Point, the hacker group was under the command of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, a branch of the Iranian military that is ideologically committed to the defense of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Reuters said it contacted the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and Europol, but that both agencies refused comment, as did the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, an unnamed official representing the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency, said that ROCKET KITTEN “is familiar to us and is being attended to”. The official declined to provide further details. Meanwhile, Check Point said it would issue a detailed report on the subject late on Monday.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 November 2015 | Permalink

Iraq now using Russian intelligence in war against Islamic State

Baghdad IraqThe Iraqi government is now using intelligence supplied by the Russian military in its war against the Islamic State, according to officials in Baghdad. As intelNews reported in September, the Iraqi Joint Forces Command announced it had entered a formal intelligence-sharing agreement with the governments of Russia, Syria and Iran. The purpose of the collaboration was to defeat the Islamic State, the Sunni militant group that currently controls a third of Iraq’s territory and much of neighboring Syria. Many were surprised by last month’s announcement, as it was the first time that Iraq, an American ally, had entered an alliance with Washington’s Cold-War adversary Russia, as well as with Iran and Syria, two countries with which the United States has no diplomatic relations.

According to US media reports, the headquarters of the intelligence-sharing center is located in Baghdad’s so-called Green Zone, where US forces were stationed until 2012. Each of the member states has six officers at center, who are given intelligence by their respective countries’ militaries with the intent of sharing it with the other three participating militaries. In addition to these officers, there are two Russian one-star generals stationed at the center, according to The Washington Times, which cited “an Iraqi official who asked not to be identified”.

Back in September, when the four-partite agreement was announced, the US said it respected Iraq’s freedom to enter into security pacts with regional governments, but warned that Syria was a major violator of human rights and should not be part of the intelligence-sharing treaty. On Tuesday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said he could see no reason why Baghdad would want to enter into an intelligence-sharing agreement with Moscow, given that the US-led coalition had been sharing intelligence with Iraq for over a year. The coalition’s intelligence collaboration with Baghdad had “worked effectively with the Iraqis to make progress against [the Islamic State] inside of Iraq”, he said.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 October 2015 | Permalink

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