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Iran spies infiltrate Europe, Iranian airline ‘ferries guns and fighters'

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in New Delhi, India, in February
The German Government has banned Iranian airline Mahan Air from flying to and from the country – with a spokesman claiming there were “serious indications” Tehran was using it to facilitate spying missions on Europe.

Germany also fears Iran is using the airline to transport weapons and fighters to Syria to prop up the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Christopher Burger, deputy Foreign Office spokesman said: "In the opinion of the Federal Government, this is urgently needed to safeguard the foreign and security policy interests of the Federal Republic of Germany. It is in Germany’s diplomatic interest that there are no flights to Germany by companies that support the military conflict in Syria and contribute to the repression of people in war zones.”

Mr Burger also said there were "serious indications" Iranian intelligence agencies were operating in Europe.

Last week, a suspected Iranian spy who worked for the German Armed Forces as a language evaluator and cultural advisor was arrested in Germany.

Mr Burger said the German government could not exclude the possibility that Mahan Air was using its flights to Germany to support the activities of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, suggesting they were “frequently involved in acts of state terrorism”.

Therefore Mahan flights could “impact the security situation in Germany”, he added.

Official EU policy has been centerd on trying to salvage the landmark Joint Plan of Comprehensive Action (JPOCA) international nuclear deal with Iran after US President Donald Trump pulled out in May – but concerns have been building about Tehran’s activities for many moneys.

This month the bloc imposed Iran-related sanctions in response to Iran’s alleged involvement in plots to kill political opponents in France and Denmark.

Officials from Germany, the Netherlands, Britain, France, Denmark and Belgium have confronted Iran over such issues, according to a letter sent by Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok to the country’s Parliament on January 8.

In it, he said the Dutch intelligence service “has strong indications that Iran was involved in the assassinations of two Dutch nationals of Iranian origin, in Almere in 2015 and in The Hague in 2017”.

Mr Burger insisted Germany “remained committed” to the JPOCA deal and to preserving “economic ties” with Iran.

But he added: “At the same time we have always said that Iran’s destabilizing activities in the Middle East and the Iranian ballistic missile program are not acceptable. In addition there have been serious indications in recent times with regard to the actions of Iranian intelligence agencies in European countries.”

The announcement was welcomed immediately by the US Government, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeting: "The airline is transporting arms and fighters to the Middle East, thus supporting the destructive ambitions of the Iranian regime in the region.”

Mr Pompeo called on other allies to follow Germany's example.

US Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell said: "Mahan Air has flown terrorists, weapons, equipment, and funds to international locations to support Iranian terrorist proxy groups.

“Iran’s use of Mahan Air to support the Assad regime in Syria, for example, has contributed to incredible human suffering, violence, and political instability felt across the world.”

“No country in which Mahan Air flies, should feel safe.

"I think it's a great step by the German government. It shows great leadership.

"We all have the same goal. There are only differences in the tactics of how to achieve this goal."

Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas will travel to Washington tomorrow, and will meet with Mr Pompeo during his visit.

Iran was told of Germany’s decision in advance, Mr Burger said said, while Mahan had been told its operating licence was being suspended from Monday.

A Mahan Air official told the Financial Times the decision was “definitely politically motivated” and “definitely a result of the US pressure”.

He added: “Mahan Air is the only Iranian airline which has Airbus 340 aircraft which fly to European cities and come back with no need to fuel and hence [are] not at the risk of US sanctions.

“Our passengers all hold European visas and our planes land in European airports. Such a move by Germany means European countries under-rate their own visa systems and airports’ security.”

The Iranian Government has yet to comment on the decision.
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