US slaps new sanctions on Iranian groups for election interference

Iranian groups have been sanctioned for interfering with the US election and US voters. (AP)
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Updated 23 October 2020

US slaps new sanctions on Iranian groups for election interference

  • US says Bayan Gostar, an alleged IRGC-Qods Force “front company” for propaganda, took the lead in the activities

WASHINGTON:  The United States on Thursday slapped new sanctions on five Iranian entities for what it called “brazen attempts” to interfere with the US election.
Stepping up pressure after US intelligence pointed the finger at both Iran and Russia, the Treasury Department accused the Iranian groups of seeking to spread disinformation and division ahead of the November 3 vote.
The Treasury imposed the fresh sanctions against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the IRGC-Qods Force, the Bayan Rasaneh Gostar Institute, the Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union and International Union of Virtual Media.
The groups have worked to “sow discord among the voting populace by spreading disinformation online and executing malign influence operations aimed at misleading US voters,” the Treasury said.
Bayan Gostar, which the Treasury called an IRGC-Qods Force “front company” for propaganda, took the lead in the activities, it said.
Ahead of the election, “Bayan Gostar personnel have planned to influence the election by exploiting social issues within the United States, including the Covid-19 pandemic, and denigrating US political figures,” it said.
“As recently as summer 2020, Bayan Gostar was prepared to execute a series of influence operations directed at the US populace ahead of the presidential election.”
The two media groups were part of that operation, it said.
The Treasury gave no specific details on what the Iranians had done, but US social media companies have blocked accounts and postings they determined were part of Iranian government-backed influence efforts related to the election and social issues.
The sanctions, which forbid Americans and US entities from doing business with the Iranian groups, likely have little real impact, as the IRGC and IRGC-Qods Force are already subject to other sweeping sanctions.
The announcement came one day after the US Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe fingered Iran as behind recent emails addressed to US voters threatening them to support President Donald Trump and his Republican Party.
The emails appeared to have been sent by a right-wing US militia group, the Proud Boys, but Ratcliffe said Iran was behind them.
Trump stirred controversy in his first debate with his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, by equivocating on whether he condemns the Proud Boys.

Iran summoned the ambassador of Switzerland, who represents US interests in Tehran in the absence of diplomatic relations, to deny the “fabricated and clumsy” allegations.
US authorities “have put forward a baseless claim on the verge of the country’s election so that they would advance their undemocratic and predefined scenario through shifting the blame,” Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a statement.
The accusations against Iran came after longstanding US concerns about the role of Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has acknowledged favoring Trump in the 2016 election and an investigation by former FBI chief Robert Mueller found evidence that Trump associates cooperated with Moscow, although he said he did not have enough to bring conspiracy charges.
Trump has repeatedly voiced anger at the “Russia hoax,” describing it as a way to discredit his election victory.
While Trump has spoken fondly of Putin, his administration has been a sworn enemy of Iran’s clerical regime, imposing overwhelming sanctions and withdrawing from a denuclearization accord negotiated by former president Barack Obama.
The Treasury Department separately Thursday imposed sanctions against Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, where the United States has been working to fight Tehran’s influence.
The Treasury alleged Iraj Masjedi was a “close adviser” to Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s most powerful general, who was killed in January by a US strike.


France targets mosques in extremism crackdown

Updated 03 December 2020

France targets mosques in extremism crackdown

  • Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said that if any of the 76 prayer halls inspected were found to promote extremism they would be closed down
  • Inspections are part of France’s response to two attacks — the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty and the killing of three people in a Nice church

PARIS: French authorities will inspect dozens of mosques and prayer halls suspected of radical teachings starting Thursday as part of a crackdown on extremists following a spate of attacks, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.

Darmanin told RTL radio that if any of the 76 prayer halls inspected was found to promote extremism they would be closed down.

The inspections are part of the government’s response to two brutal recent attacks that shocked France — the October 16 beheading of a teacher who showed his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad and the stabbing to death of three people in a church in Nice on October 29.

Darmanin did not reveal which places of worship would be inspected. In a note he sent to regional security chiefs, seen by AFP, he cites 16 addresses in the Paris region and 60 others around the country.

On Twitter Wednesday he said the mosques were suspected of “separatism” — a term President Emmanuel Macron has used to describe ultraconservative Muslims closing themselves off from French society by, for example, enrolling their children in underground schools or forcing young girls to wear the Muslim headscarf.

The rightwing minister told RTL the fact that only a fraction of the around 2,600 Muslim places of worship in France were suspected of peddling radical theories showed “we are far from a situation of widespread radicalization.”

“Nearly all Muslims in France respect the laws of the Republic and are hurt by that (radicalization),” he said.
The killing of teacher Samuel Paty, who had shown his pupils cartoons of Mohammad in a class on free speech, at a school outside Paris sent shockwaves through France, where it was seen as an attack on the republic itself.

In the aftermath of his murder the authorities raided dozens of associations, sports groups and charities suspected of promoting extremism.
They also ordered the temporary closure of a large mosque in the Paris suburb of Pantin that had shared a vitriolic video lambasting Paty.

The government has also announced plans to step up the deportations of illegal migrants on radicalization watchlists.
Darmanin said that 66 of 231 foreigners on a watchlist had been expelled, around 50 others had been put in migrant detention centers and a further 30 had been placed under house arrest.

The minister announced the latest clampdown after receiving fierce criticism for pushing a bill that would make it harder to document police brutality.

Images of officers beating up black music producer Michel Zecler in his studio brought tens of thousands of people onto the streets last weekend against Darmanin’s push to restrict the filming of the police in the new bill.
MPs from Macron’s ruling Republic on the Move party have since announced plans to rewrite the legislation.