A MYSTERIOUS plane visited Russia and Venezuela in the weeks before the Iranian-linked aircraft was imposed in Argentina.
The Boeing 747 plane was held in Buenos Aires this week where Argentine authorities searched it and seized it on suspicion of intelligence activities – detaining 19 crew members.
Among the crew were five Iranians, alleged to have links to the Quds Force, the shadowy wing of Iran’s terrorist-designated Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) responsible for clandestine foreign operations.
Iranian dissidents have warned the plane’s detention is proof that the regime is spreading state-sponsored terrorism to the Americas – right in the backyard of the US.
The aircraft is suspected to have been carrying members of the IRGC’s terrorist group, the Quds Force.
And the rogue state is also believed to provide weapons to nations such as Venezuela, but no arms were found on the Boeing 747.
It stokes fears about the international reach of Iran’s shadowy terror networks.
Flight data shows the aircraft appears to have flown from Russia’s capital Moscow, to Iranian’s main city Tehran, and the Venezuela’s seat of power Caracas in the weeks before it was held by Argentina.
The plane is also believed to have likely made a fuel stop at Espargos the island of Cape Verde.
And it appears the Boeing 747 in the weeks before its detainment visited the Venezuelan capital three times, as well as making stops in Belgrade and in Mexico.
Its flight path was pieced together using tracking data by aircraft observer Gerhon.
The plane was found to be carrying automotive parts – but its unusually large crew of 19, five Iranians and 14 Venezuelans, has raised questions for the authorities.
Washington is keeping close tabs on the case – and Israel has praised Argentina for identifying a “potential threat”, warning Iranian airlines could be engaged in “arms trafficking transfer of people and equipment” for the IRGC.
Iranian political dissident group National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) told The Sun Online that the situation appeared to indicate that the regime was “stepping up” and spreading its “state-sponsored terrorism abroad” and urged the West to sit up and take notice.
The NCRI pointed out that the plane, which was registered to Emtrasur, the cargo division of the Venezuelan state owned airline Conviasa, had actually been obtained from the Iranian Mahan Airlines, designated as a supporter of terrorism by the US.
Mahan Airlines is described as the “favourite airline of IRGC” and has been used to haul weapons, ammunition, and mercenary forces from Iran, Iraq and neighboring countries to Syria to support Bashar al-Assad, according to the NCRI.
Venezuela and Iran are known allies and Conviasa was sanctioned by the US in 2020 accused of using its airline for political reasons.
Hossein Abedini, deputy director of the NCRI, said: “All the indications point out to the fact that since last year that Ebrahim Raisi was appointed as the president of the regime it has stepped up repression at home, terrorism abroad and drive to acquire the nuclear weapons.
“It is time for the West, in particular the US and the UK, to hold the regime accountable for all its nefarious conduct and end the impunity that the regime’s leaders have been enjoying for too long.”
There were claims that one of the detained Iranians is Gholamreza Qasemi, a former commander of the IRGC force who has been implicated in smuggling weapons to Lebanon’s Hezbollah in recent years – although later reports claimed just the name matched.
Another held crew member is allegedly a family member of Ahmed Vahidi, Iran’s Interior Minister, who, along with Mohsen Rezaei and Ali Fallahian, is wanted by Interpol for his role in the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center of Buenos Aires.
The devastating bomb blast killed at least 85 people and injured 300 others, destroying a seven-story Jewish community communication center.
Abedini, who himself survived a terror attack by the IRGC 30 years ago, said: “We know that Mahan Air is the favorite airline of the IRGC for illicit activities particularly transporting troops, weapons and all sorts of things.
“Emtrasur airline only has three planes and they have all come from Mahan Air – isn’t that a bit fishy? We also believe Emtrasur’s main base is a military base, which is strange for a cargo airline.
“How come the crew members are Iranians and why is the judge holding them up in Argentina? Emtrasur can’t say it didn’t know who it was flying – they were crew members.
“The other suspicious thing is how many crew members there were – 19 for a cargo plane is too much.
“We know that the Iranians have a very close 20 year relationship with Venezuela and both are economically sanctioned by the US.
‘IT DOESN’T ADD UP’
“It doesn’t add up that this is a Venezuelan airline with Iranian plans and Iranian staff we believe have links to Hezbollah and major terror attacks. It looks more like a front than anything else.”
Argentinian security minister Aníbal Fernández told local station Radio Perfil: “After the entry of the plane, information was received from foreign organizations warning that part of the crew belonged to companies related to the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard of Iran.
Routine checks detected “things that were not logical,” I added.
An investigation is now underway and the 19 crew members are banned from leaving the country.
The hotel rooms where the 19 crew members are staying have been raided with cops seizing mobile phones and documents. The case is being kept sealed.
Abedini added: “The Iranian regime is the leading state-sponsor of terrorism, and its terror machine recognizes no border and boundary.
“One has to remember that it is the very same regime that assigned its accredited diplomat to bomb the grand meeting of the National Council of Resistance of Iran in Paris in 2018 that was aborted in the last stages by the European law enforcement agencies and the ‘ diplomat’ ended up with 20 years of imprisonment in Belgium.
“The bigger picture here is Iran is using a widened network to export their terror and now they are reaching Latin America.
“While Iran is under tremendous sanctions its first priority is still the export of terror and they have not subsided in this.
“While the world is focused on the Iranian nuclear program and other things, there are signs that Iran is extending its terror and illicit activities into Latin America.
“There have been talks about releasing Iranian assets and the US needs to realize if it did that, it would only facilitate activities like this. It would exacerbate it.”
The Sun reached out to Venezuela’s foreign ministry for comment.