Iranian vice president’s Nicaragua visit spurs outrage in Latin America

Mohsen Rezaee, vice president for economic affairs, represented Iran at Ortega’s inauguration on Monday. (File/AFP)
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Updated 15 January 2022

Iranian vice president’s Nicaragua visit spurs outrage in Latin America

  • Mohsen Rezaee part of group accused of masterminding 1994 terror attack in Argentina
  • OAS official tells Arab News Nicaragua should have detained him as per Interpol red alert

SAO PAOLO: The attendance of an Iranian vice president at the inaugural ceremony of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has spurred outrage among the Latin American Jewish community.

Mohsen Rezaee, vice president for economic affairs, represented Iran at Ortega’s inauguration on Monday.

The Sandinista leader, who has ruled the Central American country since 2007, was sworn in for his fourth consecutive mandate.

Rezaee, who led the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for 16 years, is part of a group of Iranian officials who allegedly masterminded the 1994 bombing of the building of the Argentine Israeli Mutual Association, known by the Spanish acronym AMIA.

The detonation of a truck loaded with explosives killed 85 people and left more than 200 injured at the Jewish center in Buenos Aires, a city with an estimated population of 200,000 Jews, the largest such community in Latin America.

A long inquiry carried out by Argentinian authorities with the help of Israeli and US intelligence resulted in Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral’s 2006 arrest order against former Iranian President Ali Rafsanjani and other senior officials, including Rezaee.

A member of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah was also part of Canicoba’s arrest warrant. Since 2007, the group behind the bombing has been on the Interpol wanted list. 

The attack on AMIA was the second terrorist bombing of Jewish targets in Argentina. Two years earlier, in 1992, an explosion at the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires killed 29 people.

The charges against Rezaee were further strengthened by his own son Ahmad, who left Iran for the US in 1998 and told American authorities that the attack was planned by Tehran and that Hezbollah was involved.

After a short period in the US, he returned to Iran and retracted his previous claims. He was found dead in a Dubai hotel in 2011.

Rezaee rejected the Argentinian charges as “a sheer lie” in an interview to the Los Angeles Times in 2009. He said he had been traveling internationally and had never had any problem.

Indeed, his visit to Nicaragua has not led to his detention. He not only attended the inauguration, but also had a meeting with Ortega, his wife and Vice President Rosario Murillo on Thursday, Sandinista newspaper E19 reported.

Fernando Lottenberg, the Organization of the American States’ commissioner to monitor and combat antisemitism, issued a formal repudiation of Rezaee’s trip to Nicaragua, emphasizing that he “is under the Interpol red alert and Nicaragua, as a member of such an institution, must carry out the detention order.”

Lottenberg, formerly head of the Brazilian Israelite Confederation, told Arab News that he and other members of the Latin American Jewish community are worried about the apparent closeness of Iran and some of the region’s nations.

“The Iranians have a long-lasting relationship with Venezuela. It seems that this process is reaching other countries,” he said.

“Rezaee attended Ortega’s inaugural ceremony and also took pictures with the Cuban leader Miguel Diaz-Canel.”

The Jewish community is “worried about such relations established by nations in our region with an antisemitic and dictatorial regime,” Lottenberg said.

He added that while Nicaragua announced in November 2021 its intention to leave the OAS, the country still has to fulfill its obligations with the organization for two years. “It’s not an automatic process,” he explained.

AMIA released a statement on Tuesday reaffirming its demand for “rigorous monitoring of the Iranian defendants when they leave their country, so that they cannot move freely through nations that protect them.”

The statement added: “Almost 28 years after the attack on its headquarters, AMIA reiterates its unwavering commitment to the search for justice and to the demand that those responsible for the crime against humanity carried out be tried with the constitutional guarantees established by the law of our country.”

AMIA said Argentina’s Ambassador to Nicaragua Daniel Capitanich attended the ceremony and “did not leave the premises nor alerted the authorities on such a serious situation.”

Over the past few days, opposition members of Congress in Argentina have condemned President Alberto Fernandez’s administration for sending Capitanich to the inauguration.

The Argentinian Chancellery said Capitanich did not know that Rezaee would be present. Later, Argentina’s Foreign Ministry released a statement protesting Rezaee’s presence.

US expands Russia sanctions, targets chips sent via China

Updated 7 sec ago

US expands Russia sanctions, targets chips sent via China

WASHINGTON: The United States on Wednesday dramatically broadened sanctions on Russia, including by targeting China-based companies selling semiconductors to Moscow, as part of its effort to undercut the Russian military machine waging war on Ukraine.

Among the steps, the US Treasury said it was raising “the risk of secondary sanctions for foreign financial institutions that deal with Russia’s war economy,” effectively threatening them with losing access to the US financial system.

It also said it was moving to restrict the Russian military industrial base’s ability to exploit certain US software and information technology services and, with the State Department, targeting more than 300 individuals and entities in Russia and beyond, including in Asia, Europe and Africa.

Separately, the Commerce Department said it was targeting shell companies in Hong Kong for diverting semiconductors to Russia, taking steps that would affect nearly $100 million of high-priority items for Moscow including such chips.

It will also expand its lists of items Russia cannot import from other nations to cover not just US-origin products but US-branded goods, meaning those made with US intellectual property or technology, a senior Commerce official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

US-made chips and other technology have been found in a wide array of Russian equipment, from drones to radios, missiles and armored vehicles, recovered from the battlefield, Ukrainian officials say.

After seizing Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of its neighbor in 2022, triggering a host of new US economic sanctions on Moscow.

While many analysts do not expect US and other nations’ sanctions to materially change Russian President Vladimir Putin’s calculus, they believe they will both make it harder for Moscow to wage war and, over time, weaken Russia’s economy.

“Today’s actions strike at their remaining avenues for international materials and equipment, including their reliance on critical supplies from third countries,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.

The Treasury also said it was imposing sanctions on key parts of Russia’s financial infrastructure, including the Moscow Exchange (MOEX), which operates Russia’s largest public markets for equity, fixed income, foreign exchange and other products.

MOEX and its related subsidiaries have facilitated sanctions evasion by obscuring the identities of parties engaged in such transactions, a senior Treasury official told reporters. By sanctioning them, the official said, the US would force greater transparency on cross-border transactions, making it harder to evade sanctions.

MOEX, in a statement rushed out within an hour of the US moves on Wednesday, a public holiday in Russia, said the new sanctions had forced an immediate suspension of trading in dollars and euros on its leading financial marketplace.

The news came as President Joe Biden departed for a summit in southern Italy with leaders from other Group of Seven democracies: Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.

One of the G7 leaders’ priorities is boosting support for Ukraine, now in the third year of resisting Russia’s invasion, and disarming the Russian war machine.

Peter Harrell, who served as White House senior director for international economics in 2021 and 2022, described the latest sanctions as a “paradigm shift,” partly because they expose foreign banks to the risk of being cut off from the US financial system if they deal with key large Russian banks.

The Treasury accomplished this by increasing to 4,500 the universe of Russian companies and individuals who could trigger such sanctions from about 1,200, the senior Treasury official told reporters.

“For the first time, the US is shifting toward something that begins to look like ... an effort to set up a global financial embargo on Russia,” Harrell said.

Iran frees imprisoned French citizen: Macron

Updated 7 min 48 sec ago

Iran frees imprisoned French citizen: Macron

PARIS: Iranian authorities have released a French citizen held since September 2022, France’s President Emmanuel Macron announced Wednesday, urging Tehran to free three other French citizens “without delay.”

“Louis Arnaud is free. Tomorrow he will be in France after a long incarceration in Iran,” Macron posted on X, thanking Oman in particular for helping to secure “this happy outcome.”

Biden faces first lawsuit over new asylum crackdown at the border

Updated 10 min 51 sec ago

Biden faces first lawsuit over new asylum crackdown at the border

  • The order Biden issued last week would limit asylum processing once encounters with migrants between ports of entry reach 2,500 per day.

WASHINGTON: A coalition of immigrant advocacy groups sued the Biden administration on Wednesday over President Joe Biden’s recent directive that effectively halts asylum claims at the southern border, saying it differs little from a similar move during the Trump administration that was blocked by the courts.

The lawsuit — filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and others on behalf of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center and RAICES — is the first test of the legality of Biden’s sweeping crackdown on the border, which came after months of internal White House deliberations and is designed in part to deflect political attacks against the president on his handling of immigration.

“By enacting an asylum ban that is legally indistinguishable from the Trump ban we successfully blocked, we were left with no choice but to file this lawsuit,” said Lee Gelernt, an attorney for the ACLU.

The order Biden issued last week would limit asylum processing once encounters with migrants between ports of entry reach 2,500 per day. It went into effect immediately because the latest figures were far higher, at about 4,000 daily.

The restrictions would be in effect until two weeks after the daily encounter numbers are at or below 1,500 per day between ports of entry, under a seven-day average. But it’s far from clear when the numbers would dip that low; the last time was in July 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The order went into effect June 5, and Biden administration officials have said they expected record levels of deportations.

But advocates argue that suspending asylum for migrants who don’t arrive at a designated port of entry — which the Biden administration is trying to push migrants to do — violates existing federal immigration law, among other concerns.

Biden invoked the same legal authority used by the Trump administration for its asylum ban, which comes under Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. That provision allows a president to limit entries for certain migrants if their entry is deemed “detrimental” to the national interest.

Biden has repeatedly criticized Trump’s immigration policies as he campaigns, and his administration argues that his directive is different because it includes several exemptions for humanitarian reasons. For example, victims of human trafficking, unaccompanied minors and those with severe medical emergencies would not be subject to the limits.

“We stand by the legality of what we have done,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on ABC’s “This Week” before the lawsuit was filed, saying he anticipated legal challenges. “We stand by the value proposition.”

Under Biden’s directive, migrants who arrive at the border but do not express a fear of returning to their home countries will be subject to immediate removal from the United States, within a matter of days or even hours. Those migrants could face punishments that could include a five-year bar from reentering the US or even criminal prosecution.

Meanwhile, those who express fear or an intention to seek asylum will be screened by a US asylum officer but at a higher standard than currently used. If they pass the screening, they can pursue more limited forms of humanitarian protection, including the UN Convention Against Torture, which prohibits returning people to a country where they’re likely to face torture.

More than 80 passengers killed in the latest boat accident in Congo

Updated 12 June 2024

More than 80 passengers killed in the latest boat accident in Congo

KINSHASA, Congo: A boat carrying more than 270 passengers has capsized on a river near Congo’s capital of Kinshasa, leaving more than 80 dead, President Félix Tshisekedi said Wednesday.

It was the latest deadly boat accident in the central African country where overloading is often blamed, including in February when dozens lost their lives after an overloaded boat sank.
A statement quoting Tshisekedi said the locally made boat capsized late Monday in Maï-Ndombe province along the Kwa River.
The boat was carrying 271 passengers to Kinshasa when it broke down due to an engine failure, according to the UN-backed Radio Okapi, citing Ren Maker, the water commissioner in the Mushi district where the accident happened.
Eighty-six of the passengers died while 185 managed to swim ashore, some 70 kilometers (43 miles) near the closest city of Mushie, Maker said.
He said the boat hit the edge of the river bank and broke up.
Congolese officials have often warned against overloading and vowed to punish those violating safety measures for water transportation. But in remote areas where most passengers come from, many are unable to afford public transport for the few available roads.



Apparent pro-Palestinian activists splash red paint on homes of Jewish officials at Brooklyn Museum

Updated 12 June 2024

Apparent pro-Palestinian activists splash red paint on homes of Jewish officials at Brooklyn Museum

  • Mayor Eric Adams, in a post on the social platform X, wrote: “This is not peaceful protest or free speech. This is a crime, and it’s overt, unacceptable antisemitism”
  • Taylor Maatman, a spokesperson for the museum said a report was filed with police but declined to provide more details

NEW YORK: People purporting to be pro-Palestinian activists hurled red paint at the homes of four Jewish officials with the Brooklyn Museum and also splashed paint across the front of diplomatic buildings for Germany and the Palestinian Authority early Wednesday, in sprees of vandalism that prompted a police investigation and brought condemnation from city authorities.
Mayor Eric Adams, in a post on the social platform X, shared four images of a brick building splashed with red paint with a banner hung in front of the door that called the museum’s director, Anne Pasternak, a “white-supremacist Zionist.”
“This is not peaceful protest or free speech. This is a crime, and it’s overt, unacceptable antisemitism,” Adams wrote, sending sympathy to Pasternak and other museum board members whose homes were defaced. “These actions will never be tolerated in New York City for any reason.”
Taylor Maatman, a spokesperson for the museum said a report was filed with police but declined to provide more details.
“We are deeply troubled by these horrible acts of vandalism targeting museum leadership,” she said in a statement.
Red paint was also splashed across the front of a Manhattan building that houses Germany’s consulate and the United Nations mission, and another building that is a headquarters for for Palestinian diplomats. Flyers critical of the Palestinian Authority and its president, Mahmoud Abbas, were scattered outside the building.
It wasn’t immediately clear who was responsible or whether the acts of vandalism were all related.
A spokesperson for the New York Police Department declined to comment, saying the agency was investigating and would provide more information later. Messages seeking comment were also sent to Palestinian and German diplomats.
Hundreds of protesters marched on the Brooklyn Museum late last month, briefly setting up tents in the lobby and unfurling a “Free Palestine” banner from the roof before police moved in to make dozens of arrests. Similar protests have happened since October at other New York City museums.
The protest group Within Our Lifetime and other organizers of that demonstration said the museum is “deeply invested in and complicit” in Israel’s military actions in Gaza through its leadership, trustees, corporate sponsors and donors — a claim museum officials have denied.
The protest group did not respond to an email seeking comment.
City Comptroller Brad Lander, who was among the New York politicians to speak out against the protests, said the Brooklyn Museum has done more to grapple with questions of “power, colonialism, racism & the role of art” than many other museums.
“The cowards who did this are way over the line into antisemitism, harming the cause they claim to care about, and making everyone less safe,” he wrote on X.
The grand beaux arts museum, the city’s second largest, sits at the edge of Crown Heights, home to one of the city’s largest communities of Orthodox Jews.
The paint attacks came the same week that Within Our Lifetime organized a large demonstration outside a New York City exhibition memorializing victims of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on the Tribe of Nova music festival. The group called it “Zionist propaganda” and dismissed the music festival, where hundreds died, as “a rave next to a concentration camp.”
That protest also drew condemnations from across the political spectrum.
“The callousness, dehumanization, and targeting of Jews on display at last night’s protest outside the Nova Festival exhibit was atrocious antisemitism — plain and simple,” US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said Tuesday on X.