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Southeastern Iran Hit By Two Strong Earthquakes; At Least 18 Injured

Damage caused by earthquake is seen in Ravar, Kerman Province

Iran's southeastern province of Kerman has been hit by at least two strong quakes in recent days, injuring at least 18 people and damaging around 20 buildings, state media reported.

The first quake of magnitude 5.9 struck on early on December 12 about 56 kilometers north of Kerman, a city with a population of more than 820,000.

The tremor, initially reported as magnitude 6.2 by the U.S. Geological Survey before it was revised downward, was followed by dozens of smaller aftershocks.

During the night, early on December 13, a stronger quake of magnitude 6.0 struck the same area, the survey said. It was more shallow, only 10 kilometers deep, a factor that amplifies the shaking, the survey said.

The latest quake was centered 64 kilometers north of Kerman, it said.

"Overall, the population in this region resides in structures that are extremely vulnerable to earthquake shaking, though some resistant structures exist," the service said.

There were no immediate reports of damage, injuries, or fatalities.

State media reported earlier that no deaths were caused by the first earthquake, but at least 18 people were injured.

Pictures posted on state media showed people standing in streets in the quake zone to avoid being trapped by collapsing buildings. The 20 buildings reported damaged were mostly older structures, state media reported. The pictures showed collapsed mud-brick walls.

On December 11, another quake, which Iranian state media reported at 6.0 and the USGS reported at 5.4, hit western Iran, in the same region where a magnitude-7.3 earthquake killed at least 530 people last month.

There have been no reports of deaths or injuries from that quake.

Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters

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Iran Hands Labor Activist Razavi 5-Year Sentence For Organizing Protests

Iranian labor activist Davood Razavi. (file photo)

Iran's judiciary has handed down a five-year discretionary imprisonment sentence to labor activist Davood Razavi for organizing protests demanding better wages and working conditions.

The Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company Workers' Union announced the sentence -- which also came with a two-year ban on online activities and participation in political groups and parties -- on June 7, saying it was immediately calling for its suspension.

Razavi, a member of the union, was arrested last October.

The charges against him included "assembly and collusion against national security" for his membership of the union's board of directors, as well as organizing labor protests and having contact with union colleagues.

The union says Razavi's sentence shows the public should be concerned about the perspective held by the judiciary and ruling powers given they are punishing someone for pursuing legitimate demands such as housing, wages, and the creation of a workers' union.

The union called on authorities to respect such rights, which are fundamental conventions of the International Labor Organization.

In addition to condemning the verdict, the union said it was also calling for the cancellation of what they say are "baseless accusations" against Razavi and other imprisoned union members, including Hassan Saeedi and Reza Shahabi.

Shahabi and Saeedi were arrested in May 2022 by Intelligence Ministry officers after they attended a rally marking May Day where there were protests against high living costs and rising inflation.

The news comes as security forces across the country suppressed anti-government protests in cities triggered by the death last September of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.

The protests over Amini's death came after a summer of unrest across Iran over poor living conditions, water shortages, and economic difficulties resulting from crippling sanctions, which the United States has imposed on Iran over its nuclear program.

The activist HRANA news agency said that more than 500 people were killed during the unrest, including 71 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Iran's Relations With Azerbaijan Get Heated Over Attacks, Baku's Ties To Israel

Israeli President Isaac Herzog (left) and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev hold talks in Baku on May 30, ringing alarm bells in Tehran.

For the second time in just months, Baku has warned its citizens against traveling to Iran in the wake of a deadly attack on the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tehran in January that it blamed on the "unstable situation in the Islamic republic."

In what has become a habit in recent weeks, Iranian officials have been angered over the perceived obstinacy of its northwestern neighbor and the encroachment of regional adversaries on what Tehran believes to be its backyard.

Azerbaijan's increasingly cozy relations with Iran's archfoe, Israel -- highlighted by defense deals, the opening of an embassy in Tel Aviv in March, and Israeli President Isaac Herzog's first visit to Azerbaijan last month -- has become a reliable trigger for Tehran as its own ties with Baku hit new lows.

Tehran does not officially recognize Israel, which it refers to disparagingly as a Palestinian-killing "Zionist regime" and accuses of having designs on sabotage and unrest within Iran's borders.

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan has warned against the travel of its citizens to Iran! This is the same policy that the president of the fake, child-killing, and occupying Zionist regime took during his recent trip to Baku," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani tweeted on June 5. "What should scare the people of Azerbaijan is the Zionist regime, not civilized and Islamic Iran."

Complicated Relationship

Herzog's visit, during which he said he and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev discussed in depth "the regional security structure that is threatened by Iran," appeared to have struck a nerve in Tehran.

"From the standpoint of the Islamic republic, the close relations of Azerbaijan with Israel is a major problem, [as is] the active presence of Israel in the military sphere [of Azerbaijan] and providing it with weaponry and the tight economic and security ties between the two countries," Iran analyst Touraj Atabaki, professor emeritus and chairman of the social history of the Middle East and Central Asia at Leiden University, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda.

But Baku's budding ties with Israel are just one among many factors straining Iran's relationship with Azerbaijan, a fellow Shi'a-majority country.

Observers say the relationship has been complicated ever since Azerbaijan became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991. But things became even more problematic when Baku retook territory along Iran's border during its 2020 war with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh.

While Tehran supported Azerbaijan's claim to territory occupied by Iranian ally Armenia, it has strongly opposed Baku's intention to use the retaken lands to build the east-west Zangezur Corridor, which would connect mainland Azerbaijan to its Naxcivan exclave and open a long-sought trade route to Tehran's rival, Turkey, and beyond.

The plan was boosted by the Russian-brokered cease-fire that ended the war over Nagorno-Karabakh and called for "all economic and transport connections in the region to be unblocked."

While Iran launched large-scale military exercises dubbed "Mighty Iran" along its border with Naxcivan in October 2022 -- a show of force to underscore that it would not "permit the blockage" of its trade and transport links to Armenia -- the initiative has moved forward.

As talk of a possible peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan pick up steam, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Overchuk announced on May 31 that the two sides were close to an agreement that would pave the way for the route through Armenia and Azerbaijani territory previously occupied by Yerevan, and "open the road to Russia, the countries of the European Union, and Iran."

As Iran seeks to boost its sanctions-circumventing trade with Russia, including with the completion of a second north-south route that would also pass through Azerbaijan, the prospect of seeing a trade route crossing its passage to Armenia remains a serious bone of contention.

"Iran doesn't like this corridor because in the larger competition and struggle between Tehran and Baku it weakens Iran if this corridor is created, because right now Azerbaijan has to use Iranian airspace or territory to resupply Naxcivan," said Luke Coffey, a foreign policy expert at the Washington-based Hudson Institute think tank.

The Zangezur Corridor, if completed, would mean that "Iran will become less important in the eyes of policymakers in Baku, and perhaps Azerbaijan would feel emboldened to take a more hard line against Iran," Coffey told RFE/RL.

'Mighty Iran' And Shi'ite Brotherhood

Such a scenario does not sit well with Iran, which has worked to exert its influence in Azerbaijan.

"A significant segment of the Azerbaijani population is Shi'a and since the creation of the independent Republic of Azerbaijan, the Islamic republic has considered Azerbaijan as the backyard for the [expansion] of the influence of its brand of Shi'ism," Atabaki said.

Members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps take part in a military drill in Iran's East Azerbaijan Province in October 2022.
Members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps take part in a military drill in Iran's East Azerbaijan Province in October 2022.

Tehran is also wary of the effects the loss of influence on Baku will have on Iran's large ethnic Azeri population, separated from Azerbaijan by the Aras River and located primarily in Iran's East and West Azerbaijan provinces.

During the 2020 war over Nagorno-Karabakh, Coffey said, images emerged on social media of ethnic Azeris in Iran "waving Azerbaijani flags on the other side of the river, literally cheering on, like a spectator event, the advancements of the Azerbaijani armed forces."

In November 2022, Baku stoked tensions with Iran by staging its own military exercises along the Iranian border, with Aliyev saying they were necessary to show Tehran that "we are not afraid of them."

"We will do our best to protect the secular lifestyle of Azerbaijan and Azeris around the world, including in Iran," Aliyev added. "They are part of our people."

A Turning Point

Amid the continuing back and forth, the January attack on the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tehran was seen by some observers as a turning point in bilateral relations.

Azerbaijan evacuated its embassy staff following the January 27 attack, in which a security guard was killed and two others injured when a gunman stormed the complex and opened fire. Baku blamed the attack on the Iranian secret service and called it an "act of terrorism."

In February, the Azerbaijani authorities said that they had detained nearly 40 people on suspicion of spying for Iran.

Honor guards carry a portrait and a coffin with the body of Orkhan Askerov, a security officer at Azerbaijan's embassy in Iran shot dead by a gunman, during a procession prior to his funeral in Baku on January 30.
Honor guards carry a portrait and a coffin with the body of Orkhan Askerov, a security officer at Azerbaijan's embassy in Iran shot dead by a gunman, during a procession prior to his funeral in Baku on January 30.

The fray worsened in March with the alleged assassination attempt on Fazil Mustafa, an Azerbaijani lawmaker who had been critical of Iran. Following the arrest in April of four people in connection with the incident, Baku accused Tehran of orchestrating the plot.

Two weeks later, Azerbaijani media reported the arrest of 20 people allegedly affiliated with Iran's Intelligence Ministry who were accused of promoting "the Islamic republic's propaganda, spreading religious superstitions, [and] attempting to overthrow the secular government of Baku."

In a tit-for-tat move, Tehran and Baku expelled four of each other's diplomats in April. And while diplomatic relations continued, the strains were evident as the two countries' foreign ministers held a series of phone calls that month in which Iran made clear that Tehran did not approve of Baku's relations with Israel.

"Only enemies benefit from the existence of differences" between the two countries, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was quoted as saying by Iran's Shargh daily.

Iran's vice president in charge of economic affairs, Mohsen Rezaei, went a step further while addressing members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in the western Lorestan Province.

"The incitement of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the signing of arms contracts between Israel and the Republic of Azerbaijan was aimed at creating riots in the north of Iran, and to shift the thinking and focus of the army, the IRGC and the government of Iran to the north so that Israel can bomb Iran's nuclear sites," Shargh quoted Rezaei as saying.

On May 16, the Azerbaijani authorities announced another haul of individuals it said were recruited by Iran to disrupt Azerbaijan's constitutional order and establish Islamic law. This time, Baku claimed, the seven men detained had allegedly planned to assassinate Azerbaijani public figures.

The Feud Continues

That set the scene for the visit to Baku by Herzog in late May, held under strict security out of fear of Iranian retaliation.

After meeting Herzog, Aliyev lauded the boost that Israeli weaponry had given his country "to modernize our defense capability and allow us to defend our statehood, our national interests, and our territorial integrity."

Nearly 70 percent of Azerbaijan's arms imports between 2016 and 2020 were from Israel, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Herzog, in his comments after meeting Aliyev, said that "we expect to develop cooperation between us in many fields."

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Kanaani again took to Twitter to air Tehran's views on the development, writing on March 31 that "none of the regional moves of the Zionist regime remain hidden from the penetrating eyes of the Islamic Republic of Iran."

Explosions are seen during Iran's Might Iran drill in October 2022.
Explosions are seen during Iran's Might Iran drill in October 2022.

The next day, an Iranian opposition hacking group released alleged classified Iranian government documents that appeared to shed light on the January embassy attack and indicated the need to reevaluate Tehran's diplomatic ties with Azerbaijan.

The documents, purportedly distributed among top Iranian officials, included advice on how to distance Azerbaijani society from its government and attributed Baku's policies to "Zionist" influence.

That potential bombshell was followed by Azerbaijan's announcement on June 2 that it had closed Iran's cultural attache office in Baku, citing "recent disagreements" between the two countries.

And on June 3 came the spark for Kanaani's latest Twitter outburst: Azerbaijan's renewed travel warning advising its citizens not to travel to Iran and for those who are already there to be vigilant.

Within seconds of blasting Azerbaijan and its ties with Israel in his first tweet on June 5, Kanaani took a softer line, writing that Iran would still "open our arms to our Azerbaijani brothers and sisters," with the goal of continued "mutual respect and respect for neighborhood customs."

But in his comments to Radio Farda on June 7, Iran expert Atabaki expressed skepticism, saying that "the Islamic republic is not planning to see its ties with Azerbaijan as an equal relationship."

And that mindset, Atabaki said, had allowed relations to reach their current low.

The Farda Briefing: Experts Raise Questions Over Iran's First 'Hypersonic' Missile

Iran unveiled what it described as its first domestically made hypersonic ballistic missile on June 6, claiming it can travel up to 15 times the speed of sound.

Welcome back to The Farda Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter. To subscribe, click here.

I'm RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari. Here's what I've been following during the past week and what I'm watching for in the days ahead.

The Big Issue

Iran unveiled what it described as its first domestically made hypersonic ballistic missile on June 6, claiming it can travel up to 15 times the speed of sound.

Iran’s official news agency, IRNA, posted images of the new Fattah missile. The weapons system was unveiled at a ceremony attended by President Ebrahim Raisi and commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

Amirali Hajizadeh, head of the IRGC's aerospace force, claimed the missile has a range of 1,400 kilometers and can reach a speed of 15,500 kilometers per hour. He boasted that the missile is capable of evading any anti-missile defense system.

Western military experts say Iran sometimes exaggerates figures for the capabilities of its weapons.

Why It Matters: Iran has been expanding its missile program in recent years, with Tehran believed to have the largest and most diverse ballistic missile arsenal in the Middle East.

The United States and Israel see Iran’s missile program as a threat to the region, warning the missiles could be used to carry nuclear weapons. Iran has said its arsenal is for defense and deterrence purposes only.

Experts say the speed and maneuvering capabilities of hypersonic ballistic missiles make them difficult to track and intercept.

But they have raised questions about the capabilities of the Fattah missile.

Fabian Hinz, a research fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told me it does not appear to be as sophisticated as the hypersonic missiles that the United States and China have developed.

Hinz said the Fattah missile "can do some basic maneuvers, but not for the same amount of time and not as dramatic" as systems developed by other countries.

Jeremie Binnie, a Middle East defense specialist at the global intelligence company Janes, told me there are "questions as to whether it is really capable of accurately hitting its target at the very high speed that has been claimed."

What's Next: The unveiling of the Fattah missile is likely to increase the West's concerns about Iran's missile program.

Only several countries, including the United States, China, and Russia, have developed hypersonic ballistic missiles. Russia is believed to be the only country to have deployed them in combat. North Korea has also claimed it has successfully tested a hypersonic missile.

Hinz said despite its limits the Fattah missile is "another technologically sophisticated element in Iran's strategy of overcoming the ballistic missile defenses" of its regional adversaries.

Stories You Might Have Missed

The former head of Tehran's notorious Evin prison has expressed "shame" over the mass execution of political prisoners at the facility in 1988, in unprecedented comments on Clubhouse. Hossein Mortazavi Zanjani claimed he was not involved in the executions. While some Iranians praised his comments, others questioned his motives.

An Iranian cultural official has been sacked after a viral video showed a man proposing to a woman without a head scarf at the tomb of a celebrated Persian poet. The video shows violations of Iran's harsh morality laws, such as women with their heads uncovered and the man publicly embracing the woman, while a crowd applauds.

What We're Watching

The authorities in Iran appear to be increasing pressure on female university students to adhere to the country’s Islamic dress code.

A local students group reported on June 5 that a significant number of students from Tehran's University of Science and Technology as well as at least 11 professors were summoned during the past week.

The reasons cited were an alleged refusal to comply with mandatory hijab rules and what university authorities termed "inappropriate dress."

Why It Matters: Iran's universities turned into a battleground between the authorities and protesters during the monthslong antiestablishment demonstrations that erupted in September.

The rallies were triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who died shortly after she was arrested for allegedly violating the hijab law.

Campuses were often the sites of demonstrations led by students and bloody government crackdowns.

The authorities' ongoing pressure on students could trigger new protests at universities, which have often been at the forefront of the struggle for greater rights and freedoms in the Islamic republic.

That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have.

Until next time,

Golnaz Esfandiari

If you enjoyed this briefing and don't want to miss the next edition, subscribe here. It will be sent to your inbox every Wednesday.

Richard Branson Calls For Release From Prison Of Iranian Rapper Salehi

Imprisoned Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi (file photo)

Billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist Richard Branson has called for Iranian authorities to release popular rapper Toomaj Salehi, whose health has reportedly deteriorated since he was arrested during Tehran’s clampdown on nationwide anti-government protests in October. "As his life hangs in the balance after 8 months+ of imprisonment and torture, we all must give our voice to him and call for his release," Branson said in a tweet. In November, Iran’s judiciary charged Salehi with spreading “corruption on earth,” a charge that could see him sentenced to death. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, click here.

Iranian Students Say Authorities Ratcheting Up Pressure On Campus Over Dress Code

Iranian universities have become a hotbed for unrest since the death of Mahsa Amini in Tehran in September. (file photo)

Iranian student organizations have reported a significant wave of summonses at the University of Science and Technology in Tehran in a continued tightening of supervision of the dress code after months of unrest sparked by the death of a young woman for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.

The country's Student Guild Councils reported on June 5 that, during the past week, a significant number of students from the University of Science and Technology were summoned to the Disciplinary Committee, as well as at least 11 professors. The reasons cited for these summonses ranged from a refusal to comply with mandatory hijab rules to what university authorities have termed "inappropriate dress".

In addition to the summoning of students to the Disciplinary Committee, patrolling security forces have reportedly harassed students under the pretext of the dress code while they are walking on the university campus.

The Student Guild Councils said the intrusion into the lives of students has even extended to the dormitories, where curfew infractions have been cited.

In addition to students, at least 11 professors at the University of Science and Technology have also been summoned by the Faculty Disciplinary Board in recent days. They said they were summoned for signing a statement protesting against "the attacks carried out on schools and female students."

Iranian universities have become a hotbed for unrest since the death of Mahsa Amini in Tehran in September. The 22-year-old died while in police custody for an alleged violation of the country's mandatory head-scarf law.

Police have tried to shift the blame onto Amini's health, but supporters say witnesses saw her being beaten when taken into custody. Her family says she had no history of any medical issues and was in good health.

There have been clashes at universities and schools between protesters and the authorities, prompting security forces to launch a series of raids on education facilities across the country, violently arresting students, especially female students, who have defiantly taken off their head scarves, or hijabs, in protest.

According to a report by the "Committee for Following Up on the Situation of Detainees," since the beginning of the nationwide protests in September 2022, more than 720 students have been arrested, some of whom are still under arrest.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Iranian Embassy Reopens In Saudi Capital

A man stands outside the Iranian Embassy in Riyadh, which reopened on June 6. (file photo)

Iran reopened its embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on June 6, Saudi media reported, months after the two regional rivals agreed to end a diplomatic rift under a China-mediated deal. Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed in March to reestablish relations following years of hostility that has endangered stability in the Middle East and fueled regional conflicts including in Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon. The deal was struck seven years after Sunni Saudi Arabia severed relations with Shi'ite Iran following the storming of its embassy in Tehran during a dispute over the execution of a Shi'ite Muslim cleric. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Updated

U.S. Levies Sanctions On Iranian, Chinese Companies Over Ballistic Missile Programs

The U.S. Treasury Department said the network of more than a dozen people and entitites conducted transactions and facilitated the procurement of sensitive and critical parts and technology for key actors in Iran’s ballistic missile development. (file photo)

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The United States has sanctioned seven individuals and six entities from Iran, China, and Hong Kong who the U.S. Treasury Department says have helped Tehran get key technology for ballistic missile development.

In a statement on June 6, the department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), accused the individuals and entities of conducting financial transactions facilitating the network to procure parts needed for missile development.

The statement said the six companies sold sensitive centrifuges, metals, and radar materials to key actors in the previously sanctioned Iranian Defense Ministry and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL) agency.

The sanctions come as Washington steadily increases pressure on Iran to stop expanding its missile program.

“The United States will continue to target illicit transnational procurement networks that covertly support Iran’s ballistic missile production and other military programs,” said Brian Nelson, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller has called Iran’s development and proliferation of these missiles “a serious threat to regional and international security.”

He told reporters at a briefing late last month that the United States will continue to use a variety of tools, including sanctions, “to counter the further advancement of Iran’s ballistic missile program and its ability to proliferate missiles and related technology to others."

Included in the sanctions are Chinese companies Zhejiang Qingji and Lingoe Process Engineering. Additionally, the director of Zhejiang Qingji and an employee of the company have been personally designated for financial dealings and acting as transport for MODAFL in Iran.

Two other companies, Hong Kong Ke.Do International Trade and the Chinese based Qingdao Zhongrongtong Trade Development, which the Treasury Department said collaborated to sell tens of millions of dollars’ worth of metals for Iranian missile system development.

The Chinese based Beijing Shiny Nights Technology Development Company was also hit with sanctions for acting as a front company for MODAFL to procure electronics for Iranian end-users. The same accusation is levied against Iran’s defense attache in Beijing, Davoud Damghani.

The sanctions freeze all U.S. assets held in any entity’s possession, including U.S. dollar bank accounts at foreign institutions, and bar people in the United States from dealing with the individuals and companies.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

Speculation Rises Over Death Of Iranian Ex-Policewoman After Her Release From Custody

Mansureh Sagvand is said to have died of "cardiac and respiratory arrest," although her friends say they doubt the official report.

A former member of Iran's police force who resigned in protest against the suppression of demonstrators, is said to have died under what colleagues say were suspicious circumstances.

Medical officials in the southwestern Iranian province of Ilam confirmed the death of Mansureh Sagvand, a law student from Abadan who had previously resigned from her collaboration with the Law Enforcement Force.

The official news agency IRNA quoted Seydnour Alimoradi, the head of the pre-hospital emergency department of Ilam University, as saying the cause of Sagvand's death was "cardiac and respiratory arrest".

But friends of Sagvand said they doubted the official report.

Issa Baziar, a civil activist from Abadan living abroad, revealed on his Twitter page that Sagvand, died after being released from detention.

Meanwhile, Sagvand herself had reported a death threat on her Instagram account just hours before she perished, writing: "They scare us with death, as if we are alive. Forever and ever, my life is a sacrifice for the homeland. Long live Iran."

This incident follows numerous reports of "suspicious deaths" during recent nationwide protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody for a dress-code offense last September.

The Twitter account "Voice of Shahrivar," which covers protest news, noted that Sagvand was formerly a member of the Law Enforcement Force and that she cut off cooperation with this entity during the recent nationwide protests. She had been in custody for a while, it said, without giving a specific time period.

An Instagram account under the name "Mansoreh Sagvand" featured a picture of her in the uniform of women working in the Law Enforcement Force.

"I am Mansureh Sagvand from Lorestan, I used to work in the honorary police of the Law Enforcement Force of Khorramabad. From now on, I will not have any cooperation with the armed forces and I will proudly stay with my compatriots," the caption read.

Following widespread reactions among Iranian social network users regarding the suspicious death of Sagvand, IRNA dismissed the speculation as "baseless" and attributed the rumors to "opposition media."

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Iran Showcases What It Says Is First Hypersonic Missile

Aerospace forces' chief Amirali Hajizadeh was quoted as saying the missile had a range of 1,400 kilometers and could reach a speed of 15,500 kilometers per hour.

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on June 6 unveiled what it said was the first domestically produced hypersonic ballistic missile amid growing concerns in the West over the country's missile program.

The missile, named Fattah, or Conqueror in Persian, is capable of "penetrating through all missile defense systems," the IRGC's aerospace forces said on June 6, without offering evidence for the claim.

The missile was unveiled during a ceremony attended by IRGC commanders and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who also chose the name for the new weapon, state media reported.

"We feel today that a deterrent power has been established," Raisi said at the event. "This power is an anchor of lasting security and peace for the regional countries," he said in footage presented by state media.

Aerospace forces' chief Amirali Hajizadeh, was quoted as saying the missile had a range of 1,400 kilometers and could reach a speed of 15,500 kilometers per hour.

Western military experts say that Iran sometimes give exaggerated figures for the capabilities of its weapons.

Iran has continued to develop ballistic missiles despite U.S. sanctions, arguing that they are for purely defensive and deterrence purposes.

Last month, Iran presented what it said was the fourth generation of its Khorramshahr ballistic missile, called Khaibar, with a range of 2,000 kilometers and a warhead weighing 1,500 kilograms.

Over the past several days, Iran's Ministry of Defense said it was building yet another ballistic missile named "Khyber," which belongs to the Khorramshahr class of ballistic missiles.

In March 2022, Washington imposed sanctions on an Iran-based procurement network of companies for providing assistance to Iran's ballistic-missile program.

Iran's missile program is perceived as a serious threat by Tehran's arch-enemy, Israel, and other U.S.-allied countries in the Persian Gulf region.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

IAEA Chief Calls On Iran To Follow All Nuclear Commitments

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi attends a news conference during an IAEA board of governors meeting in Vienna on June 5.

Iran has not sufficiently implemented commitments to more transparency regarding its nuclear program, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, said in Vienna on June 5. In March, Grossi and the leadership in Tehran had agreed on increased surveillance of nuclear facilities and investigations into formerly secret nuclear sites. Since then only "a fraction of what we envisaged" has been implemented, Grossi said during an IAEA board meeting. The IAEA chief conceded that some surveillance cameras and devices had been installed. "Some progress has been made, but not as much as I had hoped," he said.

In Rare Display Of Defiance, Iranians Dance To Mark Death Of Ruhollah Khomeini

Iranians dance ahead of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, in Tehran on March 14. Dancing, a form of expression often suppressed by the government, has emerged as a symbolic act of civil disobedience.

A wave of public demonstrations has swept across Iran on the anniversary of the death of Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic republic, with Iranians dancing in the streets in a display of defiance of authority amid a crackdown on unrest that has swept the country.

Videos posted online showed many Iranians demonstrating on June 3, the day Khomeni died in 1989, with some showing footage of the burning of the flag, as well as images of Iran's current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, amid chants of "Death to the dictator" and "Death to Khamenei, curse on Khomeini."

The public demonstrations follow a series of recent protests in Iran. Dancing, a form of expression often suppressed by the government, has emerged as a symbolic act of civil disobedience, challenging the values and rules put in place by the regime.

In recent months, the anger has focused on the mandatory hijab rule, which forces women to cover their heads while in public. Unrest erupted in September 2022 when a young woman in Tehran died while in police custody for an alleged hijab violation.

Since then, thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets to demand more freedoms and women's rights, with the judiciary, backed by lawmakers, responding to the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution with a brutal crackdown.

Several thousand people have been arrested, including many protesters, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, digital rights defenders, and others. At least seven protesters have been executed after what rights groups and several Western governments have called "sham" trials.

Several more remain on death row and senior judiciary officials have said they are determined to ensure those convicted and sentenced have their punishments meted out.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Iran Won't Be Allowed To Obtain Nukes, Blinken Tells Israeli Lobby Group

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers a statement upon arriving in Tel Aviv on January 30.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on June 5 reiterated the U.S. administration's firm stance that Iran is Israel's top threat and will never be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon. "If Iran rejects the path of diplomacy, then, as President [Joe] Biden has repeatedly made clear, all options are on the table to ensure that Iran does not obtain nuclear weapons," Blinken told the pro-Israel AIPAC lobby in Washington. Blinken also said Saudi-Israeli normalization is deeply important for Washington. "The United States has a real national-security interest in promoting normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia," he said.

Iranian Labor Groups Call On ILO To Kick Iran Out Of Organization

The logo of the International Labor Organization

Eight independent labor organizations in Iran have called for the expulsion of the country from the International Labor Organization (ILO) and its session in Switzerland that starts on June 5.

The organizations, including the Organizing Council of Oil Contract Workers' Protests and the Iran Retirees Council, urged representative delegations from countries around the world to kick Iran out of the conference being held in the Swiss city of Geneva, as well as from the ILO, to protest against the suppression of dissent in Iran, especially with regard to workers, teachers, and protesters who have been jailed for speaking out.

The authors of the letter, which includes the names of 22 imprisoned labor activists and 19 imprisoned teachers, criticize the Iranian government's economic policies, saying they have led to widespread poverty and hardship, particularly for workers. They also highlighted "the government-sanctioned killing" of Mahsa Amini last September, which sparked public anger and spurred a movement against poverty, misery, and human rights suppression in Iran.

The letter says workers' and teachers' rights, particularly the right to form independent organizations and the right to hold gatherings and protests, are fundamental rights in any society.

The Iranian government delegation at the annual ILO conference "does not truly represent the workers, teachers, and people of Iran," it says, adding the ILO conference should make the "release of all imprisoned workers, teachers, and social activists and detainees of the movement of 'Women, Life, Freedom' and all political prisoners" and the immediate cancelation of executions in Iran as a "special agenda" for the meeting in Geneva.

The labor organizations have also demanded the "expulsion of the Islamic republic from the ILO and not allowing the delegation of this government to participate in the ILO conference in Geneva."

Iran's economy has been ravaged by U.S. sanctions, leading to a surge of protests in several cities. A report from the Labor Ministry indicated a significant increase in Iran's poverty rate, growing 50 percent in 2021 compared to the previous year.

Unrest has rattled Iran since last summer in response to declining living standards, wage arrears, and a lack of welfare support. Labor law in Iran does not recognize the right of workers to form independent unions.

Adding to the dissent, the death in September of the 22-year-old Amini while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly breathed new life into the demonstrations, which officials across the country have tried to quell with harsh measures, including the death penalty.

The Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) group said on June 1 at least 307 people -- including at least 142 people in May alone -- have been executed in 2023, a 76 percent rise compared with the same period last year.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Iran To Reopen Its Embassy In Riyadh In Sign Of Further Thawing Of Relations

Women walk past the Iranian embassy in Riyadh, which will reopen on June 6. (file photo)

Iran will reopen its embassy in Saudi Arabia’s capital on June 6, Iranian sources told the semiofficial Fars news agency, months after Tehran and Riyadh agreed to end years of hostility. In March, Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to reestablish relations after years of hostility between the regional rivals that had threatened stability and security in the Middle East and helped fuel regional conflicts from Yemen to Syria. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

U.S. Navy Says Iranian Fast-Attack Boats 'Harassed' Ship In Strait Of Hormuz

The U.S. Navy's guided-missile destroyer USS McFaul was one of two Western vessels that responded to the incident. (file photo)

The U.S. Navy said on June 5 that its sailors and the U.K. Royal Navy came to the aid of a ship in the crucial Strait of Hormuz after Iran's Revolutionary Guards “harassed” it. Three fast-attack vessels with armed troops aboard approached the merchant ship at a close distance in the afternoon on June 4, the U.S. Navy said in a statement. The U.S. Navy's guided-missile destroyer USS McFaul and the Royal Navy's frigate HMS Lancaster responded to the incident, with the Lancaster launching a helicopter. To read the original story by AP, click here.

German Jailed In Iran's Life 'In Danger,' Fellow Prisoner Says

Nahid Taghavi was sentenced to 10 years and eight months in jail in August 2021 after being arrested at her Tehran apartment in October 2020.

The life of a German-Iranian detained in Iran is in danger and she is in such pain she can barely move, a fellow prisoner who is a prominent rights activist said on June 4. Nahid Taghavi, 68, was sentenced to 10 years and eight months in jail in August 2021 after being arrested at her Tehran apartment in October 2020, and is being held in solitary confinement at Tehran's Evin prison. "The life of Nahid Taghavi, a political prisoner, is in danger," her fellow inmate, the prize-winning campaigner Narges Mohammadi, wrote on an Instagram account run by family in France.

Defying Taboos: Beloved Iranian Cleric Rescues Animals

It's rare for a cleric in Iran to attract a large following of adoring young fans on Instagram, but Sayed Mahdi Tabatabaei has done so by rescuing street dogs and cats in defiance of local taboos.

Three Europeans Return Home After Release By Iran In Prisoner Swap

Iranian opposition activists protest with a poster depicting Iranian official Asadollah Assadi in Brussels in October 2018.

Three Europeans returned home on June 3, a day after being released by Iran in a prisoner swap, and Tehran said there was no reason for Europeans to be arrested if they were not "exploited" by foreign security services. The three men -- two with dual Austrian-Iranian nationality and one Dane -- were released on June 2 by Iran in return for Iranian diplomat Asadollah Assadi as part of a swap in which Iran freed Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele last week, a Belgian government spokesperson said. Assadi was convicted in Belgium in 2021 in connection with a foiled bomb plot in France and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Iran said the charges against him were fabricated. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Iran Says To Form Naval Alliance With Persian Gulf States To Ensure Regional Stability

Shahram Irani, commander of the Iranian Navy (file photo)

Iran's navy commander said his country and Saudi Arabia, as well as three other Persian Gulf states, plan to form a naval alliance that will also include India and Pakistan, Iranian media reported on June 3. "The countries of the region have today realized that only cooperation with each other brings security to the area," Iranian naval commander Shahram Irani was quoted as saying. He did not elaborate on the shape of the alliance that he said would be formed soon. Iran has recently been trying to mend its strained ties with several Persian Gulf Arab states. In March, Saudi Arabia and Iran ended seven years of hostility under a China-mediated deal, stressing the need for regional stability and economic cooperation. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Iranian Student Beaten Amid Fears That Growing Wave Of Attacks Is Related To Protests

The incident took place at Chamran University in the city of Ahvaz. (file photo)

Security personnel at a university in southwestern Iran appear to have severely assaulted a student, the latest in a series of violent attacks on school campuses amid anti-government protests led by young Iranians angered at the regime's intrusions on their rights.

The incident took place on May 30 at Chamran University in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz, where a video shows several security personnel cornering and severely assaulting a student near the university dormitory.

The Union Council of Iranian Students reported the incident, sharing a video of the attack on June 2.

"According to numerous reports, on May 30, security agents for Chamran University in Ahvaz attacked a male student after a football match, beat him, and then took him away in a car," the council said.

As of June 2, no information has been made available about the condition of the student who was assaulted.

The incident comes days after a a video was released showing a female student being injured when someone pulled a knife on her at Tehran’s Soore University and another on the campus of Kerman University in central Iran where a female student was stabbed.

The Union Council said that in the Kerman University attack, security forces failed to intervene to aid the student, who was rescued instead by other students. The woman who was attacked was seriously injured and is currently in the intensive care unit at a local hospital.

It added that security forces have since tried to "cover up" the incident and "have not accepted any responsibility for it."

Iranian universities have become a hotbed for unrest since the death of Mahsa Amini in Tehran. The 22-year-old died while in police custody for an alleged violation of the country's mandatory head-scarf law.

Police have tried to shift the blame onto Amini's health, but supporters say witnesses saw her being beaten when taken into custody. Her family says she had no history of any medical issues and was in good health.

There have been clashes at universities and schools between protesters and the authorities, prompting security forces to launch a series of raids on education facilities across the country, violently arresting students, especially female students, who have defiantly taken off their head scarves, or hijabs, in protest.

The Union Council blasted campus authorities for pushing security officers to focus on enforcing dress codes "lest a strand of hair disgrace the university," instead of ensuring safety.

Another group, the Student Guild Council, noted that since the student protests started, "increasing the budget, increasing power, and an extensive recruitment for the university’s security office" have become the main focus of school administrators.

Meanwhile, it says there has also been an influx of people, thought to be security agents, "in civilian clothes roaming universities, taking pictures of students, and engaging with them" as officials try to enforce the hijab law.

The situation has prompted some to say these attacks are intentional and a scare tactic being used to intimidate students so they will end their protests.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

New U.S. Sanctions Take Aim At Company Responsible For Internet Censorship In Iran

The U.S. Treasury Department announced the sanctions on June 2. (file photo)

The United States has issued fresh sanctions targeting Iranian technology company Arvan Cloud, two employees of the company, and an affiliated firm for their roles in helping Tehran censor the Internet in the country, the Treasury Department said.

Arvan Cloud, a web-hosting service and content delivery network, has played a prominent role in the Iranian government’s development of the National Information Network (NIN) infrastructure, a censored version of the Internet under the control of Iranian authorities, the department said in a statement on June 2.

"The Iranian government has regularly used Internet restrictions and the throttling of Internet speeds to suppress dissent, surveil and punish Iranians for exercising their freedom of expression and assembly both online and offline," the statement said.

The department said Iranian authorities have sought to move domestic Internet traffic to the NIN in an effort to mitigate lost economic activity incurred when it imposes Internet restrictions to suppress dissent.

These restrictions have increased amid widespread protests over deteriorating living conditions and other grievances that erupted after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini last year in police custody for an alleged infraction of the country's mandatory head-scarf law.

Arvan Cloud helped lay the groundwork for the NIN’s integrated cloud network infrastructure and in contracts with the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, it has “explicitly agreed to provide interception for the government, allowing Iranian authorities to control and censor incoming and outgoing traffic and surveil data on the servers,” the Treasury Department said.

It also said Arvan Cloud has a close relationship with Iran's intelligence services and its executives are either current or former affiliates of Iranian intelligence.

Brian Nelson, the undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said free and unrestricted access to information is a fundamental right of all peoples, including in Iran.

“The United States is committed to holding accountable those who seek to undermine freedom of expression and suppress dissent, and to call out regimes who deny their citizens this right,” Nelson said in the Treasury's statement.

The individuals designated for sanctions are Pouya Pirhosseinloo and Farhad Fatemi, co-founders of Arvan Cloud. The sanctions also target ArvanCloud Global Technologies LLC, an affiliate based in the United Arab Emirates.

The sanctions freeze any property in U.S. jurisdiction owned by the individuals and entities designated. They also bar U.S. citizens from any dealings with the individuals and entities.

With reporting by Reuters

Security Forces Fire On Protesters In Abdanan Demonstrating Over Student's Death

One human rights website reported that security forces and special units had attacked protesters in Abdanan on June 1.

A group of citizens in the western Iranian city of Abdanan, took to the streets chanting anti-government slogans on June 1 to protest the suspicious death of 21-year-old student Bamshad Suleimankhani. Several protesters were injured when security forces opened fire on them, local sources reported.

Suleimankhani reportedly died earlier this week following his release from prison. Authorities said he had committed suicide.

According to videos shared on social media, protesters chanted slogans such as "Death to Khamenei," a reference to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. They also blocked some streets of Abdanan by setting fires and continued their protest with slogans like " We don't want a child-murdering government.”

The Twitter account "Voice of Shahrivar," which covers protests in Iran, reported hours before the night protests in Abdanan that the seventh-day memorial service for the “government murder" of Bamshad Suleimankhani, who died “after continuous threats by government institutions” was attended by many of the city’s residents.

The human rights website Hengaw reported that security forces and special units had attacked protesters in Abdanan, firing "live ammunition, pellet guns, and tear gas."

Images and videos from the protests appear to show that several demonstrators were injured by the pellet guns of security forces during the protests on June 1. Dozens of security forces and special unit vehicles were reportedly stationed in the main square of Abdanan and various streets of the city in the late hours of June 1. However, reports said protests continued in different neighborhoods of the city.

Issa Baziar, a civil activist from Abdanan who now resides outside the country, said on Twitter on May 28 that Suleimankhani returned home on May 26, “with signs of beating and cigarette burns on his hand, and due to severe injuries, he fell into a coma that night and his death was announced by doctors on May 28."

Baziar said Suleimankhani had received “serious warnings” from security forces. He also said that Suleimankhani’s family have been threatened by authorities and warned not to speak to the media.

Judicial and law enforcement officials in Abdanan in Ilam Province did not provide any explanation about the manner of Suleimankhani's death until the start of a strike by some merchants in the city, the widespread presence of people marking a week since his death, and the beginning of nighttime protests in Abdanan.

Speaking on June 1, Omran Ali Mohammad, the head of the Ilam Province judiciary, was quoted by the Tasnim news agency, affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), as saying that Suleimankhani died as a result of “suicide.”

Mohammad said that the student “had not been accused or summoned by any law enforcement, military and security institutions, or the judiciary of Ilam Province."

Universities and students have long been at the forefront of the struggle for greater social and political freedoms in Iran.

According to the Human Rights Activists Organization, more than 750 students have been arrested by security forces, mostly by kidnapping accompanied by assault and battery in the streets around universities amid the nationwide antiestablishment protests sparked by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini in September.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Updated

Days After Belgium Released Iranian Diplomat, Iran Frees One Danish And Two Austrian-Iranian Citizens

The Austrian Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing "satisfaction" with the release of Kamran Ghaderi (right) and Massud Mossaheb. (composite file photo)

European governments confirmed on June 2 that one Danish and two Austrian-Iranian citizens have been released by Iran after mediation efforts by Oman and Belgium.

The Austrian Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing "satisfaction" with the release of Kamran Ghaderi and Massud Mossaheb, confirming that the two men were returning to their homeland.

Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said on Twitter he was “very relieved” that Ghaderi and Mossaheb were released after years “of arduous imprisonment” in Iran.

“They are already on their way to Austria, where their families are eagerly waiting for them,” Schallenberg said.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said earlier that he had informed the governments of Denmark and Austria about the release of the prisoners, which came a week after Tehran freed a Belgian aid worker in exchange for an Iranian diplomat who was convicted on terrorism charges.

The Austrian Foreign Ministry also praised Belgium and Oman for their role in the release and called the years of detention in Iran "excruciating."

Ghaderi was jailed for more than seven years and Mossaheb more than four years. Both men had been tried and convicted on espionage charges.

The identity of the Danish national who was released was not disclosed.

Danish Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said he was "pleased" at his return to his home country and to his family but said he could not name the man because it was "personal" and it was not possible to give further details.

A Belgian government statement said the Danish citizen was arrested in the autumn of 2022 in the midst of nationwide protests in Iran following the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody for an alleged infraction of the country's mandatory head-scarf law.

The Iranian Intelligence Ministry said on September 30 that it had identified and detained people it called "seditious" and "destructive agents," including nine foreign nationals at the scene of or behind the scenes of the recent protests.

Neither the Austrian Foreign Ministry nor the Danish Foreign Ministry elaborated on the manner of support of the Belgian government or on the role of Oman. However, the release of the three Europeans came five days after Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq al-Said arrived in Tehran for a two-day visit.

Oman also played a role in negotiations that resulted in Iran and Belgium exchanging two prisoners last week.

The swap involved Olivier Vandecasteele, a Belgian aid worker jailed in Iran, and Asadollah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat imprisoned in Belgium.

Assadi was sentenced to 20 years in prison last year in connection with a plot to bomb a rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an exiled opposition group, outside Paris in June 2018. Tehran considers the NCRI a terrorist group and has called the Paris attack plot a "false flag" move by the group.

The NCRI called the release of Assadi a "shameful ransom to terrorism and hostage-taking."

Western countries have repeatedly charged that Iran is trying to take advantage of foreign countries by taking dual and foreign nationals hostage and then using them in prisoner swaps.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

Amnesty Blasts Iran's 'Shameless' Use Of Executions For Drug-Related Cases

Amnesty International said Iranian authorities have executed at least 173 people convicted of drug-related offences this year after "systematically unfair trials,"  nearly three times more than this time last year. 

Amnesty International says Iran's prisons have turned into "killing fields" with the number of people executed on drug-related charges almost triple this year compared with 2022, calling it a "shameless rate" that exposes the regime's "lack of humanity."

The London-based rights organization said in a report released on June 2 that Iranian authorities have executed at least 173 people convicted of drug-related offences this year after "systematically unfair trials," nearly three times more than this time last year.

Amnesty said members of Iran's Baluch ethnic minority accounted for around 20 percent of the recorded executions, "despite making up only 5 percent of Iran's population."

"The shameless rate at which the authorities are carrying out drug-related executions, in violation of international law, exposes their lack of humanity and flagrant disregard for the right to life," said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

"The international community must ensure that cooperation in antidrug trafficking initiatives do not contribute, directly or indirectly, to the arbitrary deprivation of life and other human rights violations in Iran," Eltahawy added.

Amnesty said the number of executions for all crimes had also significantly increased in the Islamic republic, with at least 282 people executed in total so far in 2023.

"If the authorities continue to carry out overall executions at this alarming pace, they could kill nearly 1,000 prisoners by the end of this year," the rights group warned.

The report said the poor and vulnerable are mostly impacted by the death penalty while the families of those executed frequently struggle with the dire economic consequences of losing breadwinners and being heavily indebted from legal fees.

The wave of executions has sparked outrage among rights activists and many Western governments who have called the legal proceedings against the accused "sham" trials where proper representation is not always granted and decisions are rushed behind closed doors.

The Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) group said on June 1 at least 307 people have been executed in 2023, a 76 percent rise compared with the same period last year.

IHR said at least 142 people were executed in Iran in May, the highest monthly total in eight years, amid a brutal crackdown on dissent that the Norway-based watchdog says is aimed at spreading "societal fear."

According to Amnesty International, Iran was the world's top executioner in 2022 after China.

U.S. Sanctions Iranians Over Alleged Plots To Kill John Bolton And Others

John Bolton (right), who was the U.S. National security adviser under the Trump administration, in 2019

The U.S. imposed sanctions on June 1o on an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) official and others in Iran it says took part in wide-ranging plots to kill former national security adviser John Bolton and others around the world, including at least one additional U.S. government official. The alleged 2021 plot against Bolton, one of the best-documented of the alleged assassination efforts, is part of what U.S. prosecutors and former government officials describe as ongoing efforts by the IRGC to kill Trump-era officials behind a 2020 U.S. air strike that killed the head of the IRGC's elite Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani. To read the original story by AP, click here.

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