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Argentina seizes passports of Iranian crew of grounded plane

Five Iranian crew members of a cargo plane grounded in Argentina since last week have had their passports temporarily seized pending an investigation into possible links with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, officials said on Monday. responsible.

A judge on Monday ordered their travel documents to be kept for an additional 72 hours after Security Minister Anibal Fernandez said reports had been received from ‘foreign organizations’ that some of the crew could be tied to guard-related businesses.

The Revolutionary Guards, Iran’s ideological army, is on a US blacklist of foreign “terrorist organizations”.

Read also | Two Iranian aerospace officials ‘died a martyr during their mission’

A routine check revealed “things that weren’t logical”, Fernandez told Perfil radio on Monday.

“They had declared a smaller crew than the one that traveled,” he said, adding that the matter was “still under investigation.”

He said the five Iranians were in a hotel.

Officials initially said their passports had been confiscated but would be returned if they left the country on a scheduled flight while investigations continued into the plane’s origins.

The Venezuelan Boeing 747 cargo plane carrying car parts reportedly first landed in Cordoba, Argentina on Monday last week, then attempted to fly to neighboring Uruguay, but was refused entry and returned in Ezeiza, outside of Buenos Aires.

The crew also included 14 Venezuelans, who were free to leave.

Neighboring Paraguay had warned of the plane’s presence in the area, Paraguayan Interior Minister Federico Gonzalez said.

“Other intelligence services in the region have been alerted and, as a result, Argentina and other countries have taken action,” he said.

‘Propaganda’

Iran said on Monday that Argentina’s move was part of a “propaganda” campaign against Tehran amid tensions with Western countries over negotiations to revive a 2015 nuclear deal.

The grounding of the cargo plane came days before Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was due to travel to Tehran on Saturday for the allies, both subject to US sanctions, to sign a 20-year cooperation pact.

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Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told reporters that the plane’s grounding was part of efforts to “cause a sense of insecurity”.

“These last few weeks are full of propaganda, are full of psychological operations, these wars of words that want to infiltrate people’s minds and composure,” Khatibzadeh said.

“This news is part of that.”

The plane was sold by Iran’s Mahan Air to a Venezuelan company last year, he said.

Mahan Air is accused by the United States of links with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Monday’s court decision to detain the crew’s passports came after a successful bid by the DAIA organization, which represents Argentina’s Jewish community, to be listed as a plaintiff in the investigation.

Interpol has issued arrest warrants for former Iranian leaders suspected of involvement in an attack on a Jewish center in Buenos Aires in 1994 that killed 85 people and injured hundreds.

It remains the deadliest terrorist attack in the country with the largest Jewish population in South America.

The plane’s grounding came as a resolution was passed by the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency to censor Iran.

Read also | Iran enriches uranium at unprecedented rate, dangerously close to nuclear weapon: Israeli PM Bennett

Talks in Vienna, ongoing since April last year, aim to bring the United States back to a nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) which it abandoned in 2018.

The deal had given Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program to ensure it could not develop a nuclear weapon, something Tehran has always denied wanting to do.

Iran said on Monday that all steps it had taken to renege on its commitments under the deal were “reversible”.

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