Apology Darkens Aboutalebi Shadows

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Aboutalebi’s appointment to ambassador seemed shady to begin with.

If he had been involved beyond his role as translator, it would be ironic and even demeaning for him to act as ambassador to the UN while actively curtailing the freedom of diplomats in his own country. Perhaps his involvement in the hostage crisis did not warrant being denied a visa but something about Tehran’s insistence never felt quite right.

That’s probably because Tehran still does not view storming the American embassy and holding the 52 American diplomats hostage for 444 days a crime of any kind.

Hardliners would argue that Khomeini, at the time, had deemed all of the hostages American spies and, as such, they were not viewed as innocent victims and definitely not diplomats.

The controversy over the legitimacy of Aboutalebi’s appointment and of storming the embassy was fuelled last week by an apology to the families of the hostages by Ebrahim Asgharzadeh, one of the former leaders of the people who stormed the embassy. Asgharzadeh, a reformist politician with aspirations for the presidency, expressed his apologies to the hostages and their families during a speech to the Iranian Students’ union on April 14th.

Reactions were swift and vicious. The semi-official Fars news named him one of the “regrets of the week” alongside Hillary Clinton and Shimon Peres and accused his apology of being a clear contradiction to Khomeini’s ideals. Asgharzadeh was counseled to apologize instead to the Iranian nation for having suffered for 30 years under America and the Shah and then apologize to the Iraqi women and children who had died under American hands.

For his part, Asgharzadeh believes that his apologies were legitimate, echoing the expressions of sympathy by then president Khatami 15 years ago. He also believes that issues between Iran and the US have to be resolved  because if they aren’t, they “will cast a persistent shadow” in the future. Furthermore, he contends that Khomeini had intended normalization with the US even at the time, having opposed to the idea of appropriating the embassy as offices by asking “are relations with America to be cut forever?”.

Asgharzadeh’s spotlight of humanity shone through all the way from Tehran to New York and made the shadows around Aboutalebi and Tehran’s denial that much darker.

Aboutelabi in the Eye of the Storm

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Should Hamid Aboutalebi be viewed as a diplomat or as a suspected participant in terrorism?

The Iranians say that he is to be viewed as a diplomat because they say so and because UN laws bar the US from not issuing visas to UN diplomats.

They aren’t open to discussions on Aboutelabi’s involvement in the American embassy hostage crisis affair in 1979. Neither are they open to discuss his suspected involvement in a political assassination in Italy in 1993 nor do they accept the US’s version of “terrorism”.

Is Aboutelabi innocent of these accusations? We’ll probably never find out because he isn’t available for questioning and the Americans feel that Aboutelabi would have to prove his innocence or at least be willing to go to court in order to get a visa.

Either that or he will have to convince President Obama to rescind the bill he signed that effectively bars him from legally gaining entry to the US.

The Iranians are sticking to their guns and are making a big deal of the question of legality since Aboutelabi is a diplomat who is supposed to work in the UN and is therefore under diplomatic immunity. The UN has agreed to look into the legality of this issue but they are now accused by Iran of “dragging their feet” and not doing so fast enough. It seems that denying Aboutelabi his visa is both legal in accordance to the laws of the US and illegal according to the laws of the UN.

Perhaps the US should let Aboutelabi into the country but simply limit his presence to the airport, the UN and travel in between. It would be a more elegant solution that would probably satisfy both sides.

In any case, his status as an ambassador to the UN vis-à-vis relations with the US is weak under these circumstances.

Yemen to Iran – Keep Hands Off Yemen!

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Taking a long look through our blog and you’ll see that there have been some queer happenings going on with Iranian diplomats all over the globe. In general, they seem to be hurt or assassinated more frequently than diplomats from any other country.

Take Abolqassem Assadi, the financial and consulate officer of Iran’s embassy in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a. He was shot by gunmen in the center of the city back in January.

Or, so it seemed. For a while, there were declarations that he was still alive, kidnapped, hurt or dead. Last month, things started to clear up as foreign minister Javad Zarif sent a letter to the UN secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, expressing the regime’s unhappiness with certain issues, among them was the matter of Mr. Assadi.

The Ministry spokeswoman, Marziyeh Afkham, even voiced an official concern about security conditions in Yemen, going so far as saying that “Iran attaches importance to the issue and waits for immediate action of Yemeni government to identify the assassins behind the assassination of the Iranian diplomat”.

As is usual with statements of this kind from Tehran, Yemen was outraged. After initially stating that the assassination was done only to sever ties between Teheran and Sana’a, the president of Yemen, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, sounded very aggressive toward the Islamic Republic: “Unfortunately, Iranian interference still exists, whether through its support for the Hirak separatists or some religious groups in northern Yemen .We asked our Iranian brothers to revise their wrong policies towards Yemen, but our demands have not borne fruit. We have no desire to escalate (the situation) with Tehran but at the same time we hope it will lift its hand off Yemen”.

So now Iran has another, rather large and unsavory dish, on its plate. They were of course attempting to calm down the situation. Afkham has denied President Mansour Hadi’s allegations.

The story, it seems, remains the same:

  1. Tehran attempts to increase its influence through local organizations hostile to their governments.
  2. Tehran’s efforts at local subversion are met with local violence at the expense of Iranian diplomats.
  3. Tehran is formally accused by the local government of subversion and terrorism.
  4. Tehran accuses the local government while at the same time, denies any accusations of wrongdoing.

If only Tehran would decide to break this circle of violence once and for all!

Aboutalebi Appointment Adds Insult to Injury

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You can say a lot of things about the Iranian regime – but one thing that you must know, is that they have the most twisted sense of humor.

This time, we’re addressing the appointment of the Hamid Aboutalebi as the new Iranian ambassador to the United Nations. Aboutalebi was one of the architects of the American  Embassy hostage crisis in Tehran in 1979-1981 and a key operative behind political assassinations, most notably, that of Mohammad Hossein Naghdi in Italy in 1993.

But, this joke is not funny anymore and the US Senate approved a bill to bar the ambassador to the United Nations from entering the United States.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz went as far as saying that the “nomination is a deliberate and unambiguous insult to the United States”.

This incident went as high as the White House – Press Secretary Jay Carney called the potential nomination of Hamid Aboutalebi “extremely troubling”. Later, Carney said that the white house sent a message to the Iranian government saying that this choice is “not viable”. On a side note, it’s nice to see that the Iranians can bring together the Republicans and the democrats…

The Iranians, who apparently thought that they can do whatever they want and get away with it (It’s been working quite alright for them so far…) are trying to calm the matter down –in an interview he gave beforehand, Aboutalebi tried to tell his version of the story, that he was only helping in translation to the terrorists.

Cut to the chase: Iran seems to have enough accomplished diplomats and choosing Aboutalebi to serve in New York is either a bad idea or a great way to taunt the US, both option being unecessary at a time when Iran and the West seem to be getting along so well.

Iran-Backed Terrorism In Turkey

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Tawhid-Salam – Remember This Name. 

Most people don’t know yet what Tawhid-Salam is but then again, few had heard of Al Qaeda before 9/11. I’ll be honest, I hadn’t  heard of Tawhid-Salam until about 3 weeks ago but since then, this name has popped up again and again as a growing terrorist group emerging in Turkey and backed by and well connected to, once again, Iran.

In fact, after a 3-year investigation including 234 people who were wiretapped, Tawhid-Salam was named “the stealthiest and the most dangerous terrorist organization of recent times” according to Former İstanbul Police Department intelligence bureau chief Ali Fuat Yılmazer.

 

Terrorists With Top Connections

The relationship between Iran and Turkey has had many ups and downs but can be summed up in one sentence: Tehran has many friends in Turkey who are beneficial economically and politically. As far as money is concerned, it might be worth your while to re-read my article on Iran’s involvement in Turkey’s Gold Scandal from December 29th that involved numerous high ranking officials in Turkey.

It seems that Tawhid-Salam is also very well connected: According to Yılmazer, the police managed to “expose the wider network of Iranian agents that has been set up in Turkey and discovered connections to senior government officials”. These connections include Interior Minister Efkan Ala, National Intelligence Organization (MİT) chief Hakan Fidan and Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay to name a few.

 

Links to Quds Forces and the Iranian Consulate

Tawhid-Salam’s track record is “impressive” and includes assassinations of Iranian opposition leaders and Turkish journalists/intellectuals as well as American, Saudi and Israeli diplomats.

The group has alsoconducted surveillance of the US consulate and drawn “plans of the Nuclear Research Institute in İstanbul’s Halkalı neighborhood” and delivered them to Iranian intelligence. Some of these activities were video-taped by the police as part of the investigation.

Tawhid-Salam was first identified in 1996 but has been systematically protected and covered up for over 20 years by various Turkish officials. Hakkı Selçuk Şanlı, one of the group founders, admitted in 2000 that organization members were trained in Iran “to stage attacks in Turkey and conduct intelligence operations on behalf of Iran”. He also added that he had supplied IRGC Quds forces with bombs for attacks in Georgia and Thailand from a storage unit rented by an Iranian Quds operative, Rızazade Metin.

Their contacts with Quds forces were facilitated by their contact in the Iranian Consulate – Naser Ghafari.

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…