Iran Surpasses One Million COVID-19 Cases

A member of a medical team takes a the temperature of an Iraqi traveller at the Shalamjah border crossing, some 15 kms southeast of the city of Basra, upon his return from Iran on February 21, 2020. Hussein FALEH / AFP.

 

Iran said its novel coronavirus caseload surpassed one million on Thursday, as the authorities consider easing restrictions in many parts of the Middle East’s hardest hit country.

The Islamic republic had recorded 49,348 Covid-19 deaths and 1,003,494 infections since announcing its first cases in February, health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said.

In the past 24 hours, the virus caused 358 new deaths in the country with a population of more than 80 million, and 13,922 cases of infection, Lari said.

The number of fatalities appears to have eased slightly in the past few days, however, after soaring to a daily average of more than 400 for much of November.

But some officials — including Health Minister Saeed Namaki — admit the government figures are much lower than the actual numbers.

Covid-19 first surfaced in Iran on February 19, when authorities said it claimed the lives of two elderly people in Qom, a Shiite holy city south of the capital.

They were the first confirmed deaths from the disease in the Middle East.

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Since then, the authorities have responded by taking a series of measures aimed at halting the spread of the virus.

Faced with the dual challenge of US sanctions and the pandemic, however, they have never imposed full lockdowns, for fear they would cause further damage to Iran’s economy.

US President Donald Trump has imposed wave after wave of sanctions on the Islamic republic since 2018, when he unilaterally withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal.

Despite not imposing lockdowns, non-essential businesses were closed for two weeks in areas at the highest risk on November 21, reinforcing restrictions President Hassan Rouhani said were needed to curb a “third wave” of the outbreak.

The measures apply to the vast majority of cities across Iran, including Tehran and the country’s 30 other provincial capitals.

– Iranian vaccine –

Like most countries affected by the pandemic, Iran — which began developing its own vaccine in the spring — is awaiting the availability of a vaccine against the virus.

Namaki announced on Wednesday that an Iranian company had “obtained a licence to test a vaccine on humans”.

Minou Mohraz, a medical epidemiologist with the National Coronavirus Control Committee, announced this week that the animal testing phase had been completed.

They have yet to specify when testing will be carried out on humans.

But Namaki said that if the step was successful, “we will be one of the major producers (of Covid-19 vaccinations) in the region by early next spring”.

Iran had “pre-purchased” about 16.8 million vaccine doses “via Covax” — the World Health Organization’s (WHO) mechanism for equitable access to vaccines — Namaki was quoted as saying on the ministry’s website, though which vaccine was not specified.

In theory, medicines are exempt from the US sanctions, but in reality, international banks tend to turn down transactions involving Iran to avoid being exposed to potential litigation.

– ‘US economic war’ –

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Thursday accused the US of impeding vaccine imports.

“The situation in Iran is pretty bad… unfortunately we’re suffering from something more than the rest of the world is, and that is an economic war,” he told an online forum hosted by Italy.

In the past few days, health authorities in Iran have indicated restrictions would soon be eased in several parts of the country, including Tehran.

Alireza Zali, who is in charge of coordinating the response to the pandemic in Tehran, said on Wednesday that the risk level in the capital would be eased to medium from high from Saturday.

Zali said schools, universities and mosques would remain closed, but that non-essential businesses could reopen.

On the streets of Tehran, some people lamented that anti-virus restrictions were being ignored.

“As you can see, all the shops are open,” said pensioner Amir Bahrami, pointing to stores that were supposed to be closed but were still receiving customers who slipped under partly lowered shutters.

Mohammad Maleki, a salesman, said public transport was “crowded” and called on the government to “increase the number of metro trains and buses” in service.

AFP

Iran Lays To Rest Assassinated Nuclear Scientist As It Ponders Response

A handout picture provided by Iran’s Defence Ministry on November 29, 2020 shows mourners praying by the coffin of Iran’s assassinated top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh during his funeral procession at Fatima Masumeh’s Shrine in Qom, south of Tehran. 
IRANIAN DEFENCE MINISTRY / AFP

 

 

Iran was on Monday laying to rest one of its top nuclear scientists, as the Islamic republic weighed how and when to retaliate for an assassination pinned on arch-foe Israel.

The killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh — whom Israel has dubbed the “father” of Iran’s nuclear weapons programme — has once more heightened tensions between Tehran and its foes, with President Hassan Rouhani accusing the Jewish state of acting as Washington’s “mercenary”.

Fakhrizadeh died on Friday after being seriously wounded when assailants targeted his car and engaged in a gunfight with his bodyguards outside Tehran, according to Iran’s defence ministry.

The funeral got underway with a religious singer alluding to the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, a revered seventh century holy figure from whom Shiite Muslims draw inspiration.

A large display showed a picture of the slain scientist next to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as former top general Qasem Soleimani, who was killed by the US in a drone strike in Baghdad early this year.

Iran’s parliament on Sunday demanded a halt to international inspections of nuclear sites in the country, signalling another potential retreat from a key commitment in its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, while a top official hinted Iran should leave the global non-proliferation treaty.

The Supreme National Security Council usually handles decisions related to the country’s nuclear programme, and parliamentary bills must be approved by the powerful Guardians Council.

President Rouhani has stressed his country will seek its revenge for the assassination in “due time” and not be rushed into a “trap”, with less than two months to go before US President Donald Trump leaves office after four hawkish years at the White House.

US President-elect Joe Biden has promised a return to diplomacy with Iran, after Trump unilaterally withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and began reimposing crippling sanctions.

 

READ ALSO: Rouhani Accuses ‘Mercenary’ Israel Of Scientist Assassination

– ‘Deter & take revenge’ –

Israel says Fakhrizadeh was the head of an Iranian nuclear weapons programme, the existence of which the Islamic republic has consistently denied, and Washington had sanctioned him in 2008 for activities linked to Iran’s atomic activities.

The head of Iran’s Expediency Council, a key advisory and arbitration body, said there was “no reason why (Iran) should not reconsider the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty”.

Mohsen Rezai said Tehran should also halt implementation of the additional protocol, a document prescribing intrusive inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilitates.

Khamenei called Saturday for Fakhrizadeh’s killers to be punished and parliament speaker Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf on Sunday urged “a strong reaction” that would “deter and take revenge” on those behind the killing of Fakhrizadeh, who was aged 59 according to Iranian media.

Parliament called for International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to be barred from the country’s atomic sites, according to the legislature’s news agency ICANA, after some lawmakers had accused inspectors of acting as “spies” who were potentially responsible for Fakhrizadeh’s death.

Since Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal, Iran has  abandoned key commitments under the deal, including limits to the production and stockpiling of low-enriched uranium.

– Call for strikes –

For Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Fakhrizadeh’s killing was clearly tied to Biden’s arrival in office.

“The timing of the assassination, even if it was determined by purely operational considerations, is a clear message to President-elect Joe Biden, intended to show Israel’s criticism” of plans to revive the nuclear deal, it said.

The United Arab Emirates, which in September normalised ties with Israel, condemned the killing and urged restraint.

The foreign ministry, quoted by the official Emirati news agency WAM, said Abu Dhabi “condemns the heinous assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, which could further fuel conflict in the region.

“The UAE calls upon all parties to exercise maximum degrees of self-restraint to avoid dragging the region into new levels of instability and threat to peace,” it said.

Britain, a party to the 2015 nuclear accord, said Sunday it was “concerned” about possible escalation of tensions in the Middle East following the assassination, while Turkey called the killing an act of “terrorism” that “upsets peace in the region”.

In Iran, ultra-conservative Kayhan daily called for strikes on Israel if it were “proven” to be behind the assassination.

Kayhan called for the port city of Haifa to be targeted “in a way that would annihilate its infrastructure and leave a heavy human toll”.

-AFP

Rouhani Accuses ‘Mercenary’ Israel Of Scientist Assassination

A handout picture provided by the Iranian presidency shows the Islamic republic’s President Hassan Rouhani chairing a cabinet meeting in Tehran on January 15, 2020.  AFP

 

 

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani Saturday accused arch-foe Israel of acting as a “mercenary” for the US, blaming the Jewish state for assassinating one of Tehran’s prominent nuclear scientists the day before.

“Once again, the wicked hands of the global arrogance, with the usurper Zionist regime as the mercenary, were stained with the blood of a son of this nation,” Rouhani said in a statement on his official website, referring to the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

Iran generally uses the term “global arrogance” to refer to the United States.

Fakhrizadeh was “seriously wounded” when assailants targeted his car before being engaged in a gunfight with his bodyguards in an attack outside Tehran on Friday, Iran’s defence ministry said.

It added that Fakhrizadeh, who headed the ministry’s research and innovation organisation, was later “martyred” after medics failed to revive him.

Rouhani vowed that his death “does not disrupt” Iran’s scientific progress and said the killing was due to the “weakness and inability” of Tehran’s enemies to impede its growth.

He offered condolences to “the scientific community and the revolutionary people of Iran.”

Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Friday that there were “serious indications of an Israeli role” in the assassination.

The United States slapped sanctions on Fakhrizadeh in 2008 for “activities and transactions that contributed to the development of Iran’s nuclear programme”, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once described him as the father of Iran’s nuclear weapons programme.

Fakhrizadeh was targeted while travelling near Absard city in Tehran province’s eastern Damavand county.

The New York Times said an American official and two other intelligence officials confirmed Israel was behind the attack, without giving further details.

The assassination comes less than two months before US President-elect Joe Biden is to take office.

Biden has promised a return to diplomacy with Iran after four hawkish years under Donald Trump, who withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and began reimposing crippling sanctions.

AFP

Top Iranian Nuclear Scientist Assassinated

) A handout picture released by Iran's Atomic Energy Organization on November 4, 2019, shows the atomic enrichment facilities Natanz nuclear power plant, some 300 kilometres south of capital Tehran. Atomic Energy Organization of Iran / AFP
A handout picture released by Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization on November 4, 2019, shows the atomic enrichment facilities Natanz nuclear power plant, some 300 kilometres south of capital Tehran. Atomic Energy Organization of Iran / AFP

 

Iran said one of its most prominent nuclear scientists was assassinated on Friday in an attack on his car outside Tehran that it accused arch foe Israel of being behind.

The scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was “seriously wounded” when assailants targeted his car before being engaged in a gunfight with his security team, Iran’s defence ministry said in a statement.

It added that Fakhrizadeh, who headed the ministry’s reasearch and innovation organisation, was later “martyred” after medics failed to revive him.

Fakhrizadeh, once described by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the father of Iran’s nuclear weapons programme, had been travelling in a car near Absard city in Tehran province’s eastern Damavand county.

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A state television report on the assassination described him as one “of our country’s nuclear scientists” and said that Israel “had an old and deep enmity towards him”.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said there were “serious indications of an Israeli role” in the scientist’s assassination.

“Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today,” Zarif wrote on Twitter.

“This cowardice — with serious indications of Israeli role — shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators,” he added.

He also called on the international community to “end their shameful double standards & condemn this act of state terror.”

Fakhrizadeh’s assassination comes less than two months before Joe Biden is to take office as US president.

Biden has promised a return to diplomacy with Iran after four hawkish years under incumbent US President Donald Trump, who withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and began reimposing crippling sanctions.

Series of assassinations

Trump said at the time that the deal known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) did not offer sufficient guarantees to stop Tehran from acquiring an atomic bomb.

Iran has always denied it wants such a weapon.

Trump on Friday retweeted reports on Fakhrizadeh’s assassination, without commenting on it himself.

The killing comes a day after Thailand said it had returned three Iranians jailed over a botched 2012 bomb plot in Bangkok that Israel had linked to a spate of attacks on its diplomats around the world.

A handout photo made available by Iran state TV (IRIB) on November 27, 2020, shows the damaged car of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh after it was attacked near the capital Tehran. IRIB NEWS AGENCY / AFP
A handout photo made available by Iran state TV (IRIB) on November 27, 2020, shows the damaged car of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh after it was attacked near the capital Tehran. IRIB NEWS AGENCY / AFP

 

Iran said the three were “a businessman and two” other Iranians detained abroad on the basis of “false accusations,” without giving further information.

They killing of Fakhrizadeh is the latest in a series of assassinations of nuclear scientists in Iran in recent years that the Islamic republic has blamed Israel of carrying out.

The New York Times reported earlier in November that Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command was secretly shot and killed in Tehran by two Israeli operatives on a motorcycle at Washington’s behest.

The senior leader, who went by the nom de guerre Abu Muhammad al-Masri, was killed in August along with his daughter, Miriam, the widow of Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza, the Times said, citing intelligence sources.

Iran said the report was based on “made-up information” and reaffirmed its denial of the presence of any of the group’s members in the Islamic republic.

Iran’s state news IRNA and Mehr news agency at the time reported a similar incident and identified the victims as Habib Dawoud, a 58-year-old Lebanese history teacher, and his daughter Maryam, 27, without giving further details.

 

AFP

Belgium Tries Iranian Diplomat Over Bomb Plot

Dimitri de Beco, the lawyer of Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi, arrives at Antwerp courthouse, on November 27, 2020, ahead of the start of the trial of four suspects including an Iranian diplomat accused of taking part in a plot to bomb an opposition rally. In July 2018, 
Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

 

An Iranian diplomat goes on trial in Belgium on Friday accused of plotting to bomb an Iranian opposition rally outside Paris, in a case that has stoked tensions with Tehran.

The case shines an uncomfortable light on Tehran’s international activities just as it hopes for a thaw in relations with the West as US President Donald Trump, who pulled Washington out of the Iran nuclear deal, is due to leave office.

In June 2018, Belgian authorities thwarted what they said was an attempt to smuggle explosives to France to attack a meeting of one of Iran’s exiled opposition movements which was attended by close allies of US President Donald Trump.

Later that year, the French government accused Iran’s intelligence service of being behind the operation, a charge the Islamic republic has furiously denied.

Assadollah Assadi, a 48-year-old Iranian diplomat formerly based in Vienna, faces life in prison if convicted.

The National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), which includes the People’s Mojahedin of Iran or (MEK), organised a rally in Villepinte outside Paris on June 30, 2018.

Several well-known international figures — including Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and former British officials as well as Franco-Colombian former senator Ingrid Betancourt — and NCRI leader Maryam Rajavi were to attend.

On the same morning, Belgian police intercepted a Belgian-Iranian couple driving from Antwerp and carrying half-a-kilo of TATP explosives and a detonator.

“We can’t imagine the scale of the disaster averted,” said lawyer Georges-Henri Beauthier, who is representing the interests of the NCRI, along with French colleague William Bourdon.

Outside the court, Bourdon declared: “It’s an unprecedented, historic trial. It the first time that, symbolically, the mullahs’ regime is in the dock and will be judged through the case against its so-called diplomats.”

The arrested couple, 36-year-old Nassimeh Naami and 40-year-old Amir Saadouni, join Assadi in the dock, alongside another alleged accomplice, Mehrdad Arefani, 57.

All four are charged with attempting to carry out a terrorist attack and taking part in the activity of a terrorist group. All face life sentences.

Assadi was arrested while he was travelling through Germany where he had no immunity from prosecution, being outside of the country of his diplomatic posting.

Arefani, an Iranian poet who had lived in Belgium for more than a decade, was arrested in France in 2018 after Belgium issued a European arrest warrant.

– ‘Absolutely furious’ –

 

Counsel representing those targeted by the alleged attack say Arefani was close to Assadi, said to be the architect of the plot, and point to an Austrian SIM card found in his possession.

The two men deny any connection.

Dimitri de Beco, defence counsel for Assadi, has accused the civil plaintiffs of trying to turn the case into a political trial on behalf of the opposition movement.

According to Iran expert Francois Nicoullaud — a former French ambassador to Tehran — Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani was surprised to learn about the failed attack.

“Visiting Europe at the time, he was absolutely furious to learn about this intelligence service operation, on which he hadn’t been consulted,” the diplomat told AFP.

At the time of the alleged plot, Rouhani was trying to maintain the support of European capitals for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which was abandoned by the Trump administration but remains on life-support as European capitals try to keep Iran on board.

When Paris pointed the finger at Iranian intelligence, an Iranian spokesman voiced denial and alleged that opponents of the deal in “certain quarters” were attempting to frame Tehran.

The trial is scheduled to take two days, Friday and then Thursday next week. The court is then expected to adjourn to consider its verdict before ruling early next year.

It also comes a day after a prisoner swap that saw the release of three Iranians jailed over a 2012 bomb plot in Thailand, in exchange for the freeing of an Australian-British lecturer imprisoned by Tehran for alleged spying.

-AFP

Israel Air Strikes Hit Iran Sites In Syria Killing 10

Photo Credit: The Defense Post

 

Israeli warplanes struck Syria Wednesday, hitting Iranian targets and killing 10 Syrian and foreign fighters in what the Israeli army called a retaliatory attack after explosive devices were found near one of its bases on the occupied Golan Heights.

The airstrikes came hours before US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was to land in Israel for talks including on Iran, in what was likely to be his last visit to the staunch American ally before President Donald Trump leaves office.

An Israeli army statement said its fighter jets had overnight hit “military targets belonging to the Iranian Quds Force and the Syrian armed forces”. The elite Quds Force is the main foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

The targets included “storage facilities, headquarters, and military compounds” as well as “Syrian surface-to-air missile batteries,” it said.

Syrian state news agency SANA said the strikes had killed three of its soldiers and wounded another.

The monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 10 people were killed, including foreign fighters as well as Syrian soldiers.

The foreigners included five fighters who were “likely Iranian and belonging to the Quds force” as well as two pro-Iran fighters of undetermined nationality, the Britain-based monitor said.

Israel has carried out hundreds of air and missile strikes on Syria since civil war broke out there in 2011, targeting Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah forces as well as government troops.

– Retaliatory strikes –

The Jewish state rarely acknowledges individual strikes but has done so when responding to what it describes as aggression inside Israeli territory.

Israel’s military said it had discovered improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on its side of the armistice line on the Golan Heights on Tuesday.

“We are talking about three connected Claymore anti-personnel charges that were planted close to an IDF position,” army spokesman Jonathan Conricus told reporters Wednesday.

“This was another attempt led by Iranian Quds forces. The actual planting of the IEDs was by Syrian locals but the guidance, instruction and control was by Iranian Quds forces,” he said.

Most Arab residents of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights retain Syrian citizenship, having spurned the offer of Israeli papers.

Conricus said Israel had carried out retaliatory strikes against eight separate targets inside Syria, from the armistice line on the Golan all the way to the southern outskirts of the capital Damascus.

He said they included three Iranian command centres — a headquarters in the Damascus airport, a Quds Force base in the headquarters of Syria’s seventh army division, and a “secret military site which served as a hosting facility for senior Iranian delegations”.

“We hope now that the message is clear — that it is unacceptable that the Syrian regime allows and tolerates and facilitates the use by Iranian forces of Syria as a launchpad for attacks against Israel.”

Israel and Syria, still technically at war, have a border along the Golan Heights, which the Jewish State has occupied since the Six-Day War of 1967.

Iran has been a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime throughout the civil war that erupted after the brutal repression of anti-government protests and has killed more than 380,000 people.

– Pompeo visit –

The airstrikes came hours before Pompeo was to land in Israel, for talks on Iran that are likely to focus on Israeli fears of a softer policy towards Iran after the Trump administration hands over to Democrat Joe Biden in January.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called Trump his country’s strongest-ever ally in the White House, has heaped praised on the administration for its hardline approach towards Iran.

Trump’s so-called “maximum pressure” campaign against the Islamic Republic has included sanctions and scrapping of the nuclear deal agreed between Tehran and world powers during Barack Obama’s presidency.

Israeli experts have said Netanyahu is concerned that the president-elect, Obama’s former vice president, will seek to re-engage Iran diplomatically, possibly by restoring the 2015 nuclear deal Trump pulled the US out of.

Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdellatif al-Zayani was also due in Israel for the first visit by a senior official of the Gulf Arab state since it signed a normalisation deal with Israel on September 15.

The deal was condemned as a betrayal by Iran and its regional allies.

-AFP

Trump Sought Options From Aides About Striking Iran Nuclear Site: Report

. Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP

 

Two months before he is due to leave office, President Donald Trump asked top aides about the possibility of striking Iran’s nuclear facilities, The New York Times reported Monday.

During a meeting at the Oval Office last Thursday, the outgoing Republican leader asked several top aides, including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley, “whether he had options to take action against Iran’s main nuclear site in the coming weeks,” the newspaper said.

The senior officials “dissuaded the president from moving ahead with a military strike,” warning him that such an attack could escalate into a broader conflict in the last weeks of his presidency, the Times wrote.

Trump reportedly asked the question after a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that Iran was continuing to stockpile uranium.

According to the Times, the most likely target of such a strike would have been Natanz, where the IAEA reported that Tehran’s “uranium stockpile was now 12 times larger than permitted under the nuclear accord that Mr Trump abandoned in 2018,” three years after it was signed in a bid to curb Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

Iran has long been Trump’s bete noire, and he first reintroduced sanctions and then tightened them even further after scrapping the nuclear accord.

European partners in the accord have struggled to keep the deal afloat despite Trump’s efforts to torpedo it, and are hoping for a renewed diplomatic approach after the election victory of Democrat Joe Biden on November 3, although Trump refuses to concede his loss.

The Trump administration has pledged to step up the punitive measures, which some critics see as an attempt to build up a “wall of sanctions” that Biden would have difficulty tearing down once he takes office.

-AFP

Iran Dismisses ‘Made-Up Information’ Of Al-Qaeda No. 2 Killing In Tehran

 

File Photo of a wanted Al-Qaeda suspect: Courtesy FBI

 

 

Iran on Saturday dismissed a US newspaper report that Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command was killed in Tehran by Israeli agents as “made-up information” and denied the presence of any of the Sunni jihadist group’s members in the Islamic republic.

The New York Times said Abdullah Ahmad Abdullah, indicted in the United States for 1998 bombings of its embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, was secretly shot and killed in Tehran by Israeli operatives on a motorcycle at Washington’s behest.

The senior Al-Qaeda leader, whose nom de guerre was Abu Muhammad al-Masri, was killed along with his daughter, Miriam, the widow of Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza, the Times reported Friday, citing intelligence sources.

The attack took place on August 7 on the anniversary of the Africa bombings, according to the paper.

Iran’s foes, the United States and Israel, “try to shift the responsibility for the criminal acts of (Al-Qaeda) and other terrorist groups in the region and link Iran to such groups with lies and by leaking made-up information to the media”, foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a statement.

Khatibzadeh accused the US itself and “its allies in the region” of having created Al-Qaeda through their “wrong policies” and advised US media to “not fall into the trap of American and Zionist officials’ Hollywood scenarios”.

American intelligence officials told the Times that Abdullah had been in Iran’s “custody” since 2003, but he had been living freely in the Pasdaran district of Tehran, an upscale suburb, since at least 2015.

On August 7, he was driving a white Renault L90 sedan with his daughter near his home when two gunmen on a motorbike shot five times at them with a pistol fitted with a silencer, it said.

Iran’s state news IRNA and Mehr news agency at the time reported a similar incident and identified the victims as Habib Dawoud, a 58-year-old Lebanese history teacher, and his daughter Maryam, 27, without giving further details.

They said the “individual on the motorbike shot from the sidewalk and fled” the scene and that police investigations were ongoing. There have since been no updates.

– ‘Most experienced’ planner –

US federal authorities have offered a $10- million reward for information leading to Abdullah’s capture.

He was the “most experienced and capable operational planner not in US or allied custody”, according to a highly classified document provided by the US National Counterterrorism Center in 2008, the Times said.

The bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 left 224 people dead and more than 5,000 injured.

Abdullah was indicted by a US federal grand jury later that year for his role.

Washington accused Shiite Iran of harbouring Al-Qaeda members and allowing them to pass through its territory in 2016, an accusation denied by Tehran officials at the time.

Tehran, which has been subject to several attacks by Sunni extremists, considers Al-Qaeda a “terrorist group” and has taken part in the fight against it, mainly in Syria and Iraq.

“Even though America has not shied away from making any false accusation against Iran in the past, this approach has become routine in the current US administration,” Khatibzadeh said.

He accused President Donald Trump’s administration of pursuing an “Iranophobic” agenda as part of its “all-out economic, intelligence and psychological” war against Tehran.

“The media should not be a loudspeaker for the publication of the White House’s purposeful lies against Iran,” he said.

Since unilaterally abandoning a landmark nuclear deal between Iran and major powers in 2018, the Trump administration has reimposed crippling economic sanctions against Iran as part of a policy of “maximum pressure” against its government.

-AFP

Al-Qaeda Top Commander’s Killing ‘Made Up,’ Says Iran

File photo of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani chairing a cabinet meeting in Tehran on January 15, 2020.  AFP

 

Iran said Saturday that a New York Times report that Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command had been secretly killed in Tehran was based on “made-up information” and denied the presence of any of the group’s members.

Iran’s foes, the United States and Israel, “try to shift the responsibility for the criminal acts of (Al-Qaeda) and other terrorist groups in the region and link Iran to such groups with lies and by leaking made-up information to the media,” foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a statement.

Khatibzadeh accused the US and “its allies in the region” of having created Al-Qaeda through their “wrong policies” and advised US media to “not fall into the trap of American and Zionist officials’ Hollywood scenarios”.

The NYT reported Friday that Abdullah Ahmad Abdullah, indicted in the United States for the 1998 bombings of its embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, was shot and killed in Tehran by two Israeli operatives on a motorcycle at Washington’s behest.

The senior Al-Qaeda leader, who went by the nom de guerre Abu Muhammad al-Masri, was killed along with his daughter, Miriam, the widow of Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza, the Times said, citing intelligence sources.

Washington accused Tehran of harbouring Al-Qaeda members and of allowing them to pass through its territory in 2016, an accusation denied by Tehran officials at the time.

“Even though America has not shied away from making any false accusation against Iran in the past, this approach has become routine in the current US administration,” Khatibzadeh said.

He accused President Donald Trump’s administration of pursuing an “Iranophobic” agenda as part of its “all-out economic, intelligence and psychological” war against Tehran.

“The media should not be a loudspeaker for the publication of the White House’s purposeful lies against Iran,” he said.

Since unilaterally abandoning a landmark nuclear deal between Iran and major powers in 2018, the Trump administration has reimposed crippling economic sanctions against Iran as part of a policy of “maximum pressure” against its government.

AFP

Al-Qaeda’s Number Two Secretly Killed In Iran – Report

This undated handout photo obtained from the FBI on November 13, 2020 shows Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, who was on the FBI’s list of most-wanted terrorists and has been secretly killed in Iran in August.  Handout / FBI / AFP

 

Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, indicted in the US for the 1998 bombings of its embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, was secretly killed in Iran in August, The New York Times reported Friday.

Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, who was on the FBI’s list of most-wanted terrorists, was shot and killed in Tehran by two Israeli operatives on a motorcycle at the behest of the United States, intelligence officials confirmed to the Times.

The attack, which took place on August 7 on the anniversary of the Africa bombings, has not been publicly acknowledged by the US, Iran, Israel or Al-Qaeda.

The senior Qaeda leader, who went by the nom de guerre Abu Muhammad al-Masri, was killed along with his daughter, Miriam, the widow of Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza bin Laden, the Times said.

US federal authorities had offered a $10 million reward for any information leading to his capture.

Abdullah was the “most experienced and capable operational planner not in US or allied custody,” according to a highly classified document provided by the US National Counterterrorism Center in 2008, according to the Times.

The bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 left 224 people dead and more than 5,000 injured.

Abdullah was indicted by a US federal grand jury later that year for his role.

AFP

Iran Vows To Take ‘Any Opportunity’ To Lift US Sanctions

 

File photo of the Iranian flag

 

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani vowed Wednesday to take “any opportunity” to lift US sanctions against Tehran, following President Donald Trump’s defeat by Democratic election rival Joe Biden.

While the outgoing Trump has declared Iran an arch-foe and sought to isolate it globally, president-elect Biden has proposed to offer Iran a “credible path back to diplomacy”.

“Our aim is to lift the pressure of sanctions from the shoulders of our people,” Rouhani said in televised remarks during a weekly cabinet meeting.

“Wherever this favourable opportunity arises we will act on our responsibilities. No one should miss any opportunity.”

“National security and national interests are not factional and partisan issues,” Rouhani added after conservatives blasted his reformist and moderate coalition for its “over-excitement” for re-engagement with the Islamic republic’s nemesis.

Decades-old tensions between Tehran and Washington escalated after Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from a landmark Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed, then reinforced, crippling sanctions.

Those moves torpedoed the deal, Rouhani’s signature foreign policy achievement, and bolstered conservatives who argue that the US cannot be trusted.

The measures have all but deprived Iran of vital oil revenues and isolated its banks, triggering a harsh recession and slashing the value of the rial.

Rouhani acknowledged Biden’s conciliatory remarks during his campaign but said Tehran was prepared for sanctions to remain in place.

“They can choose a new path. And if they do not want to, it is their choice,” he told the cabinet.

He noted that his administration had devised its policies on the assumption Trump would stay in office.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last week that the result of the US election would have “no effect” on Tehran’s policies towards Washington.

-AFP

Iran’s Supreme Leader Mocks US Democracy

A handout picture released by the official website of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei shows him during a meeting in Tehran on September 17, 2019. STRINGER / Iranian Supreme Leader’s Website / AFP

 

Iran’s supreme leader has mocked the rancorous aftermath of election day in the United States, saying that the vote has exposed the reality of US democracy.

Well over 24 hours after the last polling stations closed in the US state of Alaska, the battle for the White House remains undecided.

US President Donald Trump has caused disquiet among even leaders of his own Republican Party by flatly alleging fraud, while his Democratic challenger Joe Biden’s campaign team has accused the incumbent of seeking to deny the electoral rights of tens of thousands of postal voters.

“What a spectacle!” supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted late Wednesday.

“One says this is the most fraudulent election in US history. Who says that? The president who is currently in office.

“His rival says Trump intends to rig the election! This is how #USElections & US democracy are.”

The deepening polarisation of US politics since Trump’s surprise election victory four years ago has drawn expressions of concern even from Western allies, with Germany warning of a “very explosive situation” in the aftermath of the poll.

Despite US allegations that Tehran sought to use social media to influence voters in the run-up to polling day, Iran’s leadership has publicly insisted it favours neither candidate, despite their sharply divergent policies towards Tehran.

Trump has led a campaign of “maximum pressure” against the Islamic republic, pulling Washington out of a multilateral deal on Iran’s nuclear programme and reimposing crippling unilateral sanctions.

Biden has signalled he is ready to rejoin the landmark nuclear agreement struck in 2015 when he served as vice president under Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama.

But on Tuesday, Khamenei insisted the outcome of the election would have no impact on Iranian policy.

AFP