The United States is on alert due to regional links with Iranian terrorism. Earlier this week, a Venezuelan airplane sanctioned by the U.S. was detained in Argentina. The flight is suspected to have Iranian and Venezuelan crew members. Authorities currently are investigating alleged irregularities and a possible link with terrorism.
It is a Boeing 747 of the Venezuelan airline Emtrasur, which was detained by the Argentine authorities on June 8 after being stranded for lack of fuel.
The flight came from Mexico and was supposedly carrying auto parts for Volkswagen to Buenos Aires. The German company denied being the recipient of the shipment.
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The plane had arrived in Buenos Aires on the 6th and two days later was scheduled to go to Montevideo, but Uruguay denied the plane access to its airspace, so it had to return to the Argentine airport.
The flight was carrying only 14 crew members of Venezuelan nationality, several of them related to the Sebin intelligence service, and 5 Iranians whose passports were withheld while they are being investigated.
As the days go by, some irregularities are discovered that put Argentina and the world on alert: the plane was recently registered as part of the airline’s fleet, but before that, it belonged to the Iranian company Mahan Air linked to terrorism.
Emtrasur is a subsidiary of the state-owned Consorcio Venezolano de Industrias Aeronáuticas y Servicios Aéreos (Conviasa), and both Conviasa and Mahan Air are sanctioned by the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
The United States accuses Mahan Air of transporting military cargo on civilian aircraft, and in 2011 imposed sanctions on those who operate with the Iranian airline.
Irregularities of the Venezuelan plane
In addition to suspicions about the plane, Argentina is also investigating why there were five Iranians among the crew.
The Argentine press has pointed out that the Argentine authorities were struck by the fact that the crew of the aircraft was “more than double” than required.
This Monday, the Argentine Minister of Security, Aníbal Fernández, informed in declarations to the radio station Perfil that the name of one of the Iranian crew members, Gholamreza Ghasemi, “coincides” with that of a member of the Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Corps.
Among other irregularities, Argentine legislator Gerardo Milman reported to the newspaper La Nación that the aircraft “turned off the transponder, which is like a GPS on the plane, on its Córdoba-Buenos Aires flight.”
He also stated that the plane was coming from a stopover in Ciudad del Este, “10 passengers of the 29 on the flight stayed in that city.”
“These planes carry 4 or 5 people, they are cargo planes. With 30, as it had in Ciudad del Este, or 19, as it arrived in Buenos Aires, it is a loss. There are no coincidences; it would be an operation of the Venezuelan and the Iranian intelligence in Argentine territory,” affirmed the legislator.
The Argentine Minister of Security, Aníbal Fernández, said this Monday that at the moment of entering Argentina there were initially no red alerts or any type of similar measure against any of the crew members, but later the Argentine government received information from international organizations that warned that “some part of the crew belonged to companies related to the Quds Forces,” a division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Last Friday, the return of the passports to the Venezuelans was authorized, who are free to “board an airliner and leave without any inconvenience,” according to Minister Fernandez. However, the Iranians are still being held.
What would be the crew members’ objective?
Joseph Humire, a specialist in international intelligence and security, has explained to El American that for more than 35 years, Iran has built the potential to have a military presence in the region with businesses that at first glance seem lawful.
The specialist has pointed out that Iran has a car industry in Venezuela that at first glance is a legitimate business, “but when it makes shipments of car parts, it can hide other material such as explosives, minerals or raw material for weapons.”
“Iran has built a dual-use infrastructure, it builds companies as a front, which at first glance are legitimate but behind that, there are undercover uses,” he said.
Flight history and more suspicions
A month ago, the aircraft that is immobilized at Ezeiza transported a cargo of cigarettes from Paraguay to Aruba. That flight took place on May 13, from Ciudad del Este to the island.
The aircraft departed from Venezuela and landed at Guaraní airport and according to reports, the crew was also composed of 11 Venezuelans and 7 Iranians.
Of the 7 Iranians, only two match the crew members of the flight to Ezeiza and one of them is a shareholder and member of the board of directors of the Iranian airline Qeshm Fars Air, sanctioned by the United States.
What was a senior executive of an Iranian airline doing as a crew member on a cigarette cargo flight?
There is another fact that drew attention: the insurer of the Venezuelan aircraft is the Iranian company: Razi Insurance CO; a reason why Paraguay issued an alert to its peers in the region, but also to the United States and Israel.