Argentine police raid hotel housing crew of stranded IRGC-linked plane

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Officers on Tuesday searched the hotel where the Venezuelan and Iranian crew of a mysterious plane that remains stuck at Buenos Aires’ main international airport were staying as authorities blocked its exit amid suspicions on his crew and the United States sanctions against Iran.

Federal Judge Federico Villena ordered the raid on the Plaza Canning hotel outside Buenos Aires, which housed the crew of the Venezuelan-owned Boeing 747 cargo plane loaded with auto parts.

The plane has been stranded at Argentina’s largest airport since June 6, with Argentine authorities seizing the passports of five Iranians who are among at least 17 crew members who arrived in Argentina on the plane.

Argentine Security Minister Aníbal Fernández said the government had received information from foreign intelligence agencies that at least part of the Iranian crew was part of “companies linked to the Al-Quds Force of the Guardians Revolution of Iran”, which has been officially listed as a terrorist organization by the US government since 2007.

There does not appear to be an arrest warrant for any of the crew members.

Many suspicions surround the plane, including the way its operators reported fewer crew members than were actually on board, an unusually large contingent for a cargo plane.

A Venezuelan-owned Boeing 747 taxis down the runway after landing at Ambrosio Taravella Airport in Cordoba, Argentina, Monday, June 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Sebastian Borsero)

Until it was sold to Emtrasur about a year ago, the plane belonged to Mahan Air of Iran, which the US government sanctioned for allegedly aiding the Quds Force and terrorist activities.

The plane had stopped in other Latin American countries, including Paraguay and Mexico, in previous months, according to flight tracking services.

Opposition leaders in Argentina criticized the government for allowing the plane to land in the country.

Argentinian authorities insist they found no irregularities in the plane’s crew and Federal Intelligence Agency chief Agustín Rossi has slammed the opposition for linking it to terrorism international.

Rossi said the plane was carrying goods for several Argentine auto parts companies that it loaded in Mexico before stopping in Caracas and arriving in Argentina on June 6. He first landed in the central city of Córdoba due to weather conditions that prevented him from landing in Ezeiza, just outside Buenos Aires.

“The plane’s cargo has been checked in every possible way,” Rossi told a local radio station.

Police officers stand at the Plaza Central Hotel during a raid of the crew of a Venezuelan Boeing 747 freighter, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tuesday, June 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Gustavo Garello)

The unusually large crew had previously raised suspicion in Paraguay, where the plane landed last month in Ciudad del Este, near the Argentinian and Brazilian borders, where it remained between May 13 and May 16, the minister said. of the Interior of Paraguay, Federico González, to a local. radio on Wednesday.

The plane landed in Paraguay with “18 crew members, including seven Iranians and 11 Venezuelans,” Douglas Cubilla, head of airports at Paraguay’s National Civil Aeronautics Directorate, told a radio station on May 18. local radio. “Cargo planes always have six or seven crew members” and the large number of crew members “catch our attention”.

Two management officials, including the head of Ciudad del Este airport, were removed from their posts following irregularities involving the plane, González said.

It was only after the plane left Paraguay that officials learned that it “belonged to an Iranian company that is suspended with sanctions by the US Treasury Department” and that the Iranian crew was part of it. of the Quds Force, González said.

The plane appears to have carried cigarettes out of Ciudad del Este, González said.

González said Paraguay alerted intelligence agencies in the region about the plane and its crew, although he did not say when.

Uruguay previously denied the plane entry into its airspace before it landed in Argentina.

Argentina has suffered two terrorist attacks that authorities blame on Iran, an explosion in 1992 at the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires and another against a Jewish organization in 1994. Argentina calls for the arrest of several Iranian officials, although Iran denies any involvement.

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