Iranian Passport Forgery on the Rise in Bangkok

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Some stories have to start from the end. And in our story it’s the fact that Thai authorities placed Alireza Kolmoham, AKA “Mr. Ali”, in the wanted list. His alleged crime? Ties to a gang which provided forged passports to international human trafficking groups.

Mr. Kolmoham is Iranian and he supplies other Iranians with forged passports for various reasons. In some cases, Iranians are trying to flee Iran and emigrate to the West and they hang around Asia, until they can reinvent their identities while in other cases, the owners of the forged passports are Iranian operatives involved in subversion and terror.

Bangkok has become a favorite half-way destination and a market for passports. According to a Burmese forger, the trade in passports in Bangkok is very lucrative and the Thai police are not even close to breaking down on all the forgers and dealers there.

This is specially true for Iranians who are ranked 86 out 93 in Henley Partners’ “travel freedom index” as far as visa restrictions are concerned – Iranians are still welcomed in Bangkok and it was there that another Iranian passport forger, Seyed Paknejad supplied Iranian terrorists with fake passports as I outlined in an earlier post.  He was caught in Malaysia in the possession of 17 stolen New Zealand passports!

Bangkok is becoming infamous on the passport forgery scene due to a large influx of tourists into the country whose passports are stolen or who choose to sell their passports for quick cash. Also, and more importantly, getting in and out of Thailand can be expedited if the forgers know who to pay off. It’s no surprise then that there are an estimated 20 forgery gangs working in Bangkok to date.

Yes, it was “Mr. Ali” who supplied the forged passports to the two Iranians, Pouria Nour Mohammed Mehrdad and Delavar Seyed Mohammed Reza, on board the mysterious Malaysian Airlines MH370 flight to nowhere. It seems that in their case, they needed the passports to emigrate and that any links to terrorism seem slim.

Mr. Ali has disappeared – he is a passport forger, so that should not be a problem for him – and the Thai police are checking to see if he had any connections with the other Iranian forgers working in Bangkok. Unfortunately, the Thais are not sharing all of their information so details are still shady.

We might never have heard of Mr. Ali’s existence if MH370 hadn’t disappeared and that is worrisome. How many forged passports had he supplied until then that slipped through security? Nobody really knows. How many of these forged passports were used by Iranians who were not fleeing Iran but working for Iran? Nobody really knows.

All we do know is that Iranian forgers are supplying Iranians with fake passports at an alarming rate in Bangkok. And you can bet on it that the Iranian operatives know this as well.

Perhaps Thailand should keep a closer look at visiting Iranian nationals and make sure that they return home instead of leaving Thailand under a new identity.

Hamid Babaei Jailed For NOT Spying

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Just Another Ordinary Day in Tehran

You’re at an airport, waiting with your husband for your flight home. All of a sudden, officials come over and take him from you. The next thing you know, they tell you that your husband is a spy, and that you shouldn’t hold your breath to see him again. Do you come to terms with your fate and keep waiting? Or do you decide to fight this injustice as hard as you can?

 

Jailed For Not Spying

It might sound like the premise of an action-packed Hollywood film, but this is the amazing, sad and unfortunate story of what happened on the 5th of August to Cobra Parsajoo, wife of Hamid Babaei. Babaei was an Iranian grad student in Liege, Belgium, studying for a doctorate in finance and law. And she had a tough decision to make.

It started a few weeks before in July 2013: Iranian authorities approached Babaei with a request for him to spy upon other Iranians living in Belgium. He refused the “offer”, ensuring the people who contacted him that his lips were sealed, but that obviously wasn’t enough.

So, a few weeks later, after a family visit and waiting for a plane back from Tehran to his life, someone decided to deny him his life, and declared him a national security threat.

 

8 months in hell…and counting.

For the last eight months, the lives of Babaei and Parsajoo have turned into nightmares: Babaei first spend a month in solitary confinement before being transferred to Evin prison in September. On December 21st, after being denied representation by a lawyer of his choice and after a 10 minute trial, he was sentenced to 6 years in jail for “acting against national security by communicating with hostile governments”.

In the meantime, Parasajoo is managing a campaign to release him. Because of this, she is not allowed to travel and has been threatened repeatedly by the Iranian authorities for speaking publicly about Babaei’s case.

Babaei himself was pressured to make a televised confession against himself and Parsajoo which he has resisted until now… If he does break down, Parsajoo may find herself thrown in jail as well.

Iranian Expats, Beware.

It seems that you can decide to leave Iran but Iran can decide not to leave you, both metaphorically and literally.

So while Foreign Minister Javad Zarif is trying to set up a committee for the return of Iranians from abroad and while President Hassan Rouhani promises to improve the state of human rights in Iran, the regime that preceded them is still working based on a code: either you root for Iran or you become its enemy. If you don’t spy for the regime, you must be spying against it…simple, and very very sad.

Was Babaei brave or stupid to refuse the “offer”? I would like to think that he was brave

This story could happen to anyone. Well, anyone who is an Iranian living abroad and visiting home. Was Babaei brave or stupid to refuse the “offer”? I would like to think that he was brave although I’m ashamed to say that I contemplated choosing the easier path…

 

Trouble Brewing in the Gulf

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The Gulf as a Microcosm

As Iranian diplomats battle their way into a nuclear agreement in Vienna, trouble is, once again, brewing much closer to home: lines are being drawn in the oil-soaked sands and the Gulf states are choosing sides.

And although this might seem far away and irrelevant for most people, this conflict is not going to be contained within the Gulf – in fact, it is being played out in countries as far away as Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, India and the US. Because what happens in the Gulf definitely doesn’t stay there.

The Red Corner: Iran-Oman-Qatar

Oman is a natural partner of Iran and has been so since the Islamic revolution. The ties are strong and are fuelled by their control of the Straits of Hormuz as well as money – a lot of money. Last year, Iran inked an agreement with Oman to export gas and Iran is setting up a deal with Oman and India for an underwater pipeline bypassing the current land route through Pakistan. Since relations between Iran and Pakistan are on the rocks right now, such a pipeline would be a double blessing for Iran.

Qatar was not always pro-Iran and, in fact, was at odds with Iran as far as Syria is concerned by backing the rebels (to the tune of 1-3 Billion dollars) as befitted the will of the country’s ex-monarch – Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. But since the crown-prince of Qatar, Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani is an avid supporter of Assad, sentiments have changed up to the point where Qatar has decided to take a step back from the conflict in Syria and actually back Iran. In the meantime, Qatar and Iran are planning to establish a “Joint Free Trade Zone” which is sure to sweeten the relations between both countries.

The Green Corner: Saudi Arabia-Bahrain-UAE

The nuclear negotiations never did not sit well with Riyadh quite simply because the Saudis do not believe Tehran’s claims of a peaceful nuclear program. Consequently, the Saudis believe that the nuclear deal was a green light for them to buy a nuclear bomb from none other than…Pakistan.

The growing conflict between Tehran and Riyadh is not contained in the Gulf but is being battled out in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq through proxy-terrorist groups being financed by both sides. The Saudi backing of Al-Qaeda troops against Iranian-backed Hezbollah has resulted in an upsurge of terrorism in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq at the expense of civilians and Iranian diplomats caught in the crossfire.

This conflict is about money as well – Iran is trying to mobilize Iraq to form a front against Saudi Arabia’s control of OPEC, a move which is certain to add fuel to an already growing explosion in the making.

The Saudis are visibly upset with Qatar’s siding with Iran in this political tug of war, recalling its ambassador a week ago. True, relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been on the rocks for a while (since Qatar openly backed the Muslim Brotherhood) but the context of their relations is definitely Iran.

And then, of course, there is Bahrain which is, with the UAE, a natural ally of Saudi Arabia and a victim of Iranian attempts at subversion and terrorism. Bahrain never supported Iran and will definitely not do so in the future.

The Future of the Gulf

Iran has never hid its aspirations to become a leader in its neighborhood. After decades of sanctions and animosity with the West which definitely benefitted the Saudis, its rapprochement through a nuclear deal has raised many questions and anger levels between the neighboring countries. Their calls for diplomacy with Saudi Arabia by Iran are repeated in the same breath as accusations and there seems to be no end in sight.

One thing is certain – this won’t be a clean fight: Tehran will use all its resources to topple the Saudis balancing grip and judging from the past, be prepared to read about exposed spy rings, IRGC/Qods/Hezbollah operatives, shipment of munitions etc…

Tehran’s Glass House Syndrome 2 – Terrorism In The Eye Of The Beholder

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Iran is Against Terrorism?

It always seems strange to hear Iranian leaders speaking against terrorism while Tehran supports and feeds a number of terrorist organizations.

What seems stranger is that the more involved Iran is with terrorist organizations and actions, the more its diplomats and leaders bad-mouth terrorism.

Subversion and Terrorism in Lebanon

An Iranian delegation in Lebanon is trying to find ways to “confront…uncontrolled terrorism” while the Iranian ambassador in Lebanon, Ghazanadar Roknabadi “reiterated…that his country is ready to contribute with any kind of aid to Lebanon in its war against terrorism”.

Tehran’s definition of “fight against terrorism” is simple: anyone ready to kill and die for an opinion different from Iran’s is a terrorist, and therefore Iran is fighting many terrorists. They use terror to fight these so called terrorists.

Suffice to mention that Iran is in virtual control of Lebanon through its Hezbollah proxy-terrorist stronghold over the country at an estimated cost to the Iranian taxpayers of  $1 billion a year.

Subversion and Terrorism in Syria

Meanwhile, Iran is pledging to provide humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees while at the same time reinforcing support to the Syrian resistance (meaning Assad) thus causing refugees. In the same breath they blame the “flow of arms by the US terrorists” for the “spread of terrorism in the region and across the world”.

Again, one should remember that Iran is physically, economically and financially involved in the Syrian civil war through Hezbollah and IRGC troops as well as billions of dollars worth of arms shipments and bank guarantees.

Subversion and Terrorism in Iraq

And while Iran is moaning and groaning about terrorist factions working in and from Iraq, Iranian IRGC and Qods generals, including Qassem Suleimani himself, are visibly staking out Baghdad , heading at least three Tehran-backed militia brigades: Kataib HezbollahAsaib al-Haq and the “Promised Day Brigades“.

Formally, Iran is trying to deter Sunni terrorists but Iraq’s potential to buy Iranian weapons and its huge Shi’a population are definitely major targets for Iranian shadow diplomacy as always.

Subversion and Terrorism in Pakistan

Of course, the biggest target for Sunni terrorism can be found in Saudi Arabia but unlike Baghdad, Riyadh is not playing ball with Tehran.

In fact, Saudi Arabia is not sitting idly by as Iran makes its moves – they try to garner their own set of regional allies. As Iran is successfully wooing its Gulf neighbors (specially Kuwait, Oman and the UAE), Saudi Arabia is extending its friendship to countries such as Pakistan, much to the displeasure of Tehran.

Having inked a security agreement with Pakistan last month, Iranian diplomats were visibly upset when a terrorist group from Pakistan abducted five Iranian border guards and two weeks later, an additional Pakistani terrorist tried to blow up the Iranian consulate in Pakistan.