Argentina holds crew in probe of Quds Force affiliation to grounded plane

Local authorities confiscate phones and computers of plane's crew after information received by 'foreign organizations' alerts police to presence of possible terror actors on board

News agencies|
A court in Argentina late on Tuesday, instructed authorities to prevent 14 crew members of a grounded Iranian plane, from leaving the country.
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  • The ruling came hours after Argentinian security forces raided the hotel rooms of crew members and confiscated phones and computers in efforts to determine whether they were affiliated with terror groups.
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    Venezuelan owned plane grounded in Argentina suspected of Iranian terror connections
    Venezuelan owned plane grounded in Argentina suspected of Iranian terror connections
    Venezuelan owned plane grounded in Argentina suspected of Iranian terror connections
    (Photo: AP)
    According to the authorities, five Iranian crew members on the cargo plane, which has been grounded in Argentina since last week, have had their passports temporarily seized, pending a probe into possible links to Iran's Revolutionary Guards, Argentinian officials said Monday.
    A routine check found "things that were not logical," Security Minister Anibal Fernandez told Perfil radio on Monday.
    "They had declared a crew that was smaller than the one that traveled," he said. "The matter was still under investigation."
    Fernandes said that the authorities' actions were prompted by information from "foreign organizations," indicating that some among the crew may be linked to companies with ties to the Guards.
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    Argentinian police during raid of Plaza Central Hotel where the crew of a Venezuelan-owned Boeing 747 cargo plane reside
    Argentinian police during raid of Plaza Central Hotel where the crew of a Venezuelan-owned Boeing 747 cargo plane reside
    Argentinian police during raid of Plaza Central Hotel where the crew of a Venezuelan-owned Boeing 747 cargo plane reside
    (Photo: AP)
    The Venezuelan owned Boeing 747 cargo plane reportedly carrying car parts, first landed in Cordoba, Argentina arriving from Mexico on June 6, with an intent to continue to neighboring Uruguay.
    But Montevideo authorities refused to grant the plane a landing permit, after information received by security officials, perhaps from a foreign intelligence agency or the U.S. Treasury which has been enforcing sanctions against Iranian entities.
    The plane was directed to return to Argentina and landed at an airport outside Buenos Aires.
    Upon its return on June 8, it was grounded because of the suspicions raised by the inconsistency in its paperwork.
    Argentinian congressman Jorge Milman, a member of the parliament's intelligence committee claimed the plane was on some kind of Intelligence mission and demanded that crew members submit to finger printing and that his country's federal intelligence agency be brought into the investigation.
    Milman said the plane was traveling with its transponder shut off, which could indicate an attempt to avoid detection by air traffic control.
    The plane, which is registered with the Emtrasur company in Venezuela, was purchased in the past year, from Iran's Mahan Air, which has been under U.S. sanctions since 2011 due to affiliations with the IRGC, which the U.S. has classified as a terror organization.
    Washington has imposed severe sanctions on both Iran and Venezuela, who are in close ties and have signed a 20-year cooperation agreement, during the visit of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Tehran, last week.
    Argentinian police did not give a reason for its hours-long raid on the rooms occupied by the plane's crew members at the Plaza Canning Hotel.
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    Argentinian police during raid of Plaza Central Hotel where the crew of a Venezuelan-owned Boeing 747 cargo plane reside
    Argentinian police during raid of Plaza Central Hotel where the crew of a Venezuelan-owned Boeing 747 cargo plane reside
    Argentinian police during raid of Plaza Central Hotel where the crew of a Venezuelan-owned Boeing 747 cargo plane reside
    (Photo: AP)
    Latest reports revealed the investigation has now spread to Paraguay after local authorities confirmed that two officials who cleared the plane for landing there last May, had been fired and an investigation into agents of the local drug enforcement agency was opened.
    Paraguay's Interior Minister Federico Gonzales said the landing permit was issued due to a commerce license but authorities there were also suspicious of the large number of crew members.
    The plane had 18 members of crew, seven of them Iranian nationals, while the expected number of crew on similar planes was only six of seven.
    Gonzales said the plane remained in Paraguay, near the borders with Argentina and Brazil, for three days and took off on May 16 to the Caribbean island of Aruba, carrying a shipment of cigarettes.
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    Paraguay's Interior Minister Federico Gonzales
    Paraguay's Interior Minister Federico Gonzales
    Paraguay's Interior Minister Federico Gonzales
    (Photo: AFP)
    "After the plane's departure, we received word that it was under U.S. Treasury sanctions and that seven members of the crew were members of the IRGC Quds force and named on the American terror list," he said.
    The minister said he briefed intelligence agencies of other countries in the area, of events.
    Iran on Monday claimed the apprehension of the plane was part of an anti-Iran campaign conducted because of the failing efforts by the West, to return to the 2015 nuclear deal.
    Not all Argentinian officials are cooperating with the probe and the assertions of Congressman Milman.
    The recently named head of the Federal Intelligence Agency Augustin Rossi, who was appointed after Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's involvement - according to media reports, criticized opposition members for attempting to tie the plane to international terror and said it had been granted all necessary permits to land in Argentina.
    Rossi claimed the plane was carrying car parts for Argentinian companies.
    Argentina suffered two major terror attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets in the 1990's carried out allegedly by Iran and its proxy the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group.
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    Aftermath of the bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994
    Aftermath of the bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994
    Aftermath of the bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994
    (Photo: AFP)
    Some 85 people were killed and 300 others wounded when a car bomb exploded at the Jewish community center AMIA in 1994 and 29 died and a further 200 were wounded in an attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, two years earlier.



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