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Argentina says Iranians detained on grounded flight are not Quds Force members

Officials say one Iranian shares a name with member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards elite force; reports in Israel say men planned to scout Jewish and Israeli targets to attack

Police officers stand in the Plaza Central Hotel during a judicial raid where the crew of a Venezuelan-owned Boeing 747 cargo plane are staying, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tuesday, June 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Gustavo Garello)
Police officers stand in the Plaza Central Hotel during a judicial raid where the crew of a Venezuelan-owned Boeing 747 cargo plane are staying, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tuesday, June 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Gustavo Garello)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — No member of the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, was among the 19 crew of a Venezuelan plane grounded outside Buenos Aires, Argentina said Wednesday.

As the crew remained barred from exiting Argentina pending investigations into the flight’s purpose and origins, Security Minister Anibal Fernandez said one of the men shared a name with a Quds Force member, nothing more.

The man, Gholamreza Ghasemi, is one of five Iranian crew members who had their passports seized after the Venezuelan Boeing 747 cargo plane was grounded in Argentina a week ago.

On Tuesday, a judge ruled the 14 Venezuelan crew may also not leave, after police searched the crew members’ hotel rooms and seized cell phones and documents.

On Monday, Argentina officials raised suspicions of a link between the flight and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, listed as a foreign “terrorist organization” by the United States.

On Wednesday, Israel’s Channel 13 said in an unsourced report that the detained Iranians were planning to carry out attacks on Israeli and Jewish targets in Argentina and had traveled to the South American nation to scout targets. The report said they were Quds Force members.

Iran has vowed to avenge the killing of an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps officer last month, blaming Israel for the assassination. Jerusalem in recent days has called on citizens to leave Turkey immediately, saying it had gotten wind of intelligence that points to Iranian attempts to attack and kidnap Israeli tourists there.

The plane, reportedly carrying car parts, came in from Mexico to land in Cordoba, Argentina on Monday last week.

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

It then tried to travel to neighboring Uruguay, but was denied entry and returned to Ezeiza outside Buenos Aires two days later.

The plane belongs to Emtrasur, a subsidiary of Venezuela’s Conviasa, which is under US sanctions.

A judge grounded the plane based on a “reasonable suspicion that the reason given for entering (Argentina) might not be true.”

On Tuesday, Paraguay said two officials who had authorized the landing of the plane there in May had been dismissed and two anti-drug agents were under investigation.

Interior Minister Federico Gonzalez said only after it had left did Paraguay receive information that “the aircraft is sanctioned by the United States Treasury Department and that seven of the crew members are members of the Al Quds forces (of the Guards) and that the United States has them on a list of terrorists.”

Fernandez said on Wednesday none of the crew members were on an Interpol red list, and there had been no reason to prevent them from entering Argentina.

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

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said the plane was sold by Iran’s Mahan Air to a Venezuelan company last year.

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

Interpol has arrest warrants out for former Iranian leaders allegedly involved in a 1994 suicide bombing that destroyed the main Jewish community offices in Buenos Aires, killing 85 people and injuring hundreds.

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