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Iran Criticizes U.S. Sanctions Over Hacking Scheme

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi speaks during a press conference in Tehran in September 2017.

Iran has criticized new U.S. sanctions against 10 of its citizens and an Iranian company over their alleged involvement in a state-sponsored large-scale hacking and intellectual property theft scheme.

The U.S. Treasury Department unveiled charges on March 23 against nine Iranians along with sanctions against 10 individuals and the Mabna Institute, which it accused of hacking hundreds of universities on behalf of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi on March 24 called the accusations "false."

"Iran condemns the United States' provocative, illegal, and unjustified actions, which are a major new sign of the hostility and animosity of U.S. leaders towards the Iranian people," Qasemi said in a statement on the ministry's website.

"They will not prevent the scientific development of the Iranian people."

The two founders of the Mabna Institute, Gholamreza Rafatnejad, 38, and Ehsan Mohammadi, 37, were among the nine Iranians indicted in New York and whose assets are subject to U.S. seizure.

The Treasury Department said that since 2013, the Mabna Institute carried out cyberintrusions into the computer systems of 144 U.S. universities, and another 176 universities in 21 foreign countries.

Mabna Institute employees and contractors "engaged in the theft of valuable intellectual property and data from hundreds of U.S. and third-country universities...for private financial gain," the Treasury said.

"For many of these intrusions, the defendants acted at the behest of the Iranian government and, specifically, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps," Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said.

The U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, dozens of private firms and nongovernmental organizations such as UNICEF were also allegedly targeted.

Geoffrey Berman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said the Iranians conducted "spearphishing" attacks designed to steal passwords from e-mail accounts in what he called one of the largest state-sponsored hacking schemes ever uncovered.

U.S. President Donald Trump has adopted a tough stance against Iran since taking office in January 2017, and repeatedly denounced a landmark agreement that Tehran reached with world powers to curb its nuclear program.

Trump said in January that the 2015 deal must be "fixed" by May 12 or Washington will walk away.

With reporting by AFP and AP
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