Mahan plane was en route to Damascus Sunday as Israel struck

Germany bans Iranian airline that US says delivers arms and terrorists to Syria

Federal Aviation Office cancels operating license of Mahan Air, which Israeli defense officials suspect is helping fly advanced weapons to Damascus

A plane from the Iranian private airline Mahan Air lands at the international airport in Sanaa, Yemen, March 1, 2015. (Hani Mohammed/AP)
A plane from the Iranian private airline Mahan Air lands at the international airport in Sanaa, Yemen, March 1, 2015. (Hani Mohammed/AP)

Germany has banned Iranian airline Mahan Air from its airports, in an escalation of sanctions adopted by the European Union against Iran over attacks on opponents in the bloc. The US has accused Mahan of flying arms and terrorists to Syria.

Reuters on Monday quoted a German foreign ministry spokesman saying the ban on the airline takes immediate effect.

Mahan, Iran’s second-largest carrier after Iran Air, operates four flights a week between Tehran and the German cities Duesseldorf and Munich. It has been identified by Israeli defense officials as one of the cargo carriers suspected of ferrying war materiel from Iran to its proxy militias in Syria. As a result, it is subject to sanctions by the US Treasury Department.

A Mahan Air flight was en route to Syria on Sunday afternoon but turned back following reported Israeli strikes in and around the Syrian capital Damascus, according to flight data. The airline makes almost daily flights between Iran and Syria.

The EU earlier this month targeted sanctions at Iran’s security services and two of their leaders, accused of involvement in a series of murders and planned attacks against Tehran critics in the Netherlands, Denmark and France.

Brussels’ measures included freezing funds and financial assets belonging to Iran’s intelligence ministry and individual officials, but did not target any companies.

By contrast Mahan Air was blacklisted by the US in 2011, as Washington said the carrier was providing technical and material support to an elite unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards known as the Quds Force.

The US treasury has threatened sanctions against countries and companies offering the airline’s 31 aircraft landing rights or services such as on-board dining.

In this photo from, May 8, 2018, US Ambassador to Germany Richard Allen Grenell stands in front of a military honor guard during an accreditation ceremony for new ambassadors in Berlin. (AFP Photo/Odd Andersen)

German firms have come under especially intense pressure from American Ambassador Richard Grenell, a close ally of US President Donald Trump, over sanctions against Iran.

“Mahan Air has flown terrorists, weapons, equipment, and funds to international locations to support Iranian terrorist proxy groups,” Grenell said in a statement quoted by Reuters. “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.”

Rail operator Deutsche Bahn, Deutsche Telekom, Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler and industrial group Siemens have all said they will stop their operations in the country.

Last week German authorities said they had arrested a German-Afghan military adviser on suspicion of spying for Iran.

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