So, Who Murdered Nisman?

It’s been nearly three months but nobody has an answer to this question. Based on the fact that Nisman was murdered for his relentless investigation into the AMIA bombing that remains unsolved since 1994, there is a good chance that Nisman’s murder might remain unsolved as well.

Too much evidence points to Tehran’s involvement in this murder as in the AMIA bombing. And yet, the Iranian suspects which include top officials such as former presidents, wannabe presidents, IRGC commanders, cabinet ministers etc…are all far from even being investigated.

The Argentinian government has bungled it up once again: instead of demanding that Tehran comes clean and allows the Iranian suspects to be investigated, the government first dismissed Nisman’s murder as suicide and then accused political opposition of murdering him just to make de Kirchner look bad.

This is the cost of maintaining diplomatic ties with Iran: innocent people die while government officials are forced to cover up.

Mysteries of AMIA victim #86

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Slightly more than a week has passed since Argentinian prosecutor Alberto Nisman was found dead in his apartment, less than a week after he filed a criminal complaint against a host of Argentinian officials all the way up to President de Kirchner.

Since then, facts and rumors are streaming in together and things have become clearer.

Back in Argentina, Nisman focused mostly on president de Kirchner and foreign minister Timerman who both, he accused, “took the criminal decision to fabricate Iran’s innocence to sate Argentina’s commercial, political and geopolitical interests”. De Kirchner was accused of directly ordering a covert team of negotiators to make an offer “from the shadows” to Iran which would guarantee immunity to former Iranian government officials and ease Argentina’s energy shortage. Nisman who had obtained his information from wiretaps on phones didn’t mince words: “There’s been an alliance with the terrorists” and “Iran admits and even boasts that it carried out the attack” he said on a television interview 4 days before his death.

Both de Kirchner and Timerman initially scoffed at the accusations, trying to turn Nisman into paranoid quack with a knack for conspiracy theories and immediately deemed his death a suicide.

Nisman’s death was definitely not a suicide:

  • Nisman voiced his worries that his life was in danger and he placed 330 CD’s with a friend for safekeeping days before his death – why?
  • The gun was not Nisman’s although he had permits for two guns – why use someone else’s?
  • There is no exit wound for the bullet that killed him which means that the gun was not held close to Nisman’s head – who shot him?
  • A 10 person government security detail guarding Nisman was conspicuously absent on the night of the murder – who called them off?
  • No gunpowder residue was found on Nisman’s hands – so who pulled the trigger?
  • Although two doors to the apartment were locked from inside, another entrance was found from the apartment next door (the owners were conveniently on holiday) with a finger print and a foot print – whose?

De Kirchner herself retracted and moved from suicide to murder, but deemed Nisman’s accusations “confusion, lies and questions” and then spread her own conspiracy theory claiming an orchestrated attempt to discredit her and her government. She also questioned who had “ordered” Nisman to return home abruptly from a family vacation implying that “Nisman’s masters” were responsible for his death. In another article she says “THEY used him while he was alive, and then THEY needed him dead” implying once again that “they” were Nisman’s operators who had killed him to embarrass her.

She vowed that the culprits of Nisman’s death “will be found” but since the culprits of the 1994 AMIA bombing have not been apprehended after 21 years, it’s not easy to believe her. Furthermore, since Nisman requested to freeze $23 million of de Kirchner’s assets, it’s hard for her to be objective. The 21 year-old AMIA investigation always implied negligence and corruption on the parts of the Argentinian courts and governments but now, they were accused of betrayal, treason and conspiracy to murder.

It should be noted that the dubious “truth commission” between Iran and Argentina was initiated by de Kirchner and trade between Iran and Argentina subsequently grew from $84 million to $1.2 billion in the first three years of de Kirchner’s presidency. De Kirchner was visibly angered at the furor following the signing of her “truth commission”: “When it was decided that there would be cooperation by way of the pact, they (the Jewish institutions in Argentina) accused us of complicity with the Iranian state.” What she forgot to mention was that before the “truth commission” was signed in Geneva, a secret meeting between Timmerman and then Iranian foreign minister Salehi took place in Syria two years earlier.

Nisman handled the charge that finally led the Argentinian court to dismantle the “truth commission” for being unconstitutional in that it symbolized a breach of the government’s meddling in the courts.

Now back to Tehran: Remember, Nisman listed nine high-ranking Iranian diplomats including Iran’s defense minister Vahidi, Iranian intelligence minister Fallahian, presidential candidates Rezaee and Velayati (now Khamenei’s personal counselor) and over the last week, one more Iranian diplomat was added to this list – president Rouhani himself. True, Nisman doesn’t list Rouhani in the list of Iranian diplomats directly responsible for the AMIA bombing but he does accuse Rouhani of being a member in 1994 of the Iranian intelligence agency which was overseeing secret operations abroad. Rouhani may not have managed the operation but he knew and allegedly authorized it, which makes his purported fight against terrorism (World Against Violence and Extremism – WAVE) look ludicrous and hypocritical.

Since Tehran is denying any involvement in the AMIA bombing and its subsequent cover-ups, it’s highly unlikely that any Iranian officials, including Rouhani, will stand in an Argentinian court in the near future. Yet the money flowing between both countries is tainted by blood.

Iran’s Problem with Baharain

 

 

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I’ve posted on this blog posts on Iran’s relations with its fellow gulf countries before (“Trouble brewing in the Gulf, “With friends like these 3“, “Iran’s diplomatic duality in the Gulf“, “With friends like these 1“.

This week, Bahrain is taking focus again in that area and once again, it has to do with Iran’s efforts at subversion in the area. On the 28th of April, a Bahraini court sentenced 12 men to a life sentence in prison for spying. The Judges ruled that the men received training from the IRGC in Iran and that they also possessed weapons and explosives.

Furthermore, an article in The Express Tribune reported that: “Bahrain accuses Iran of fueling unrest in the country since a 2011 uprising led by the Shi’ite Muslim community demanding reforms and more share in running the kingdom ruled by the Sunni Muslim al-Khalifa dynasty”. This is quite the hefty accusation and it followed similar accusations last year regarding the IRGC setting up a terrorist cell that planned to attack its airport and government buildings.

The response from Tehran was as expected: It denied the allegations, but defended the cause of the Shi’ite opposition. The row between the two countries started a few days before, when the Bahraini Authorities expelled Iraq Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s representative, Hussein al-Najati, in the latest sign of tension with the Shia majority in the Persian Gulf country. “We strongly condemn (such) measures by the al-Khalifa and announce that we will never leave the Bahraini people alone,” said the Grand Ayatollah Hossein Nouri Hamedani in a speech in Qom, and added that this is a sign of the Al Khalifa’s fall.

The troubles in Bahrain did not go unnoticed by its neighbor and Iran’s archrival, Saudi Arabia: “Our regional security requires that we, as a Gulf grouping, work to create a real balance of forces with it, including in nuclear knowhow, and to be ready for any possibility in relation to the Iranian nuclear file” said  former Saudi intelligence director Prince Turk Al Faisal to the Bahrain Center for Strategic, International and Energy Studies.

So while Iran is succeeding in getting closer to the West, its neighbors are getting wearier of its continued efforts to stir up a Shia opposition from within. This might seem very distant and irrelevant to readers from Europe and America but Iran’s world view is certainly not limited to its neighbors.

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!

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.

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…