The U.S. Treasury Department added two Iran regime-backed militias fighting on behalf of the brutal Bashar al-Assad dictatorship in Syria to its terrorism watch list on Thursday.
These are the Fatemiyoun Division, composed of 10-20,000 Afghan nationals, and the Zaynabiyoun Brigade, consisting of an unknown number of Pakistani nationals. The majority of members of both groups are refugees and migrants residing in Iran – there are roughly 1 million registered and up to 2 million “undocumented” Afghan refugees in Iran – who were recruited by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), which is a US-designated terror group.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement: “The brutal Iranian regime exploits refugee communities in Iran, deprives them of access to basic services such as education, and uses them as human shields for the Syrian conflict. Treasury’s targeting of Iran-backed militias and other foreign proxies is part of our ongoing pressure campaign to shut down the illicit networks the regime uses to export terrorism and unrest across the globe.”
Human rights groups have reported that many of those “volunteering” to join the brigades and fight on the front lines in Daraa, Aleppo and Deir el-Zour are just trying to earn a living and gain legal status for their families in a country that does not have many opportunities for refugees. Human Rights Watch even revealed that many of the fighters are underage, with some in the Fatemiyoun Division as young as 14.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of “preying” on vulnerable refugees and using them as “cannon fodder” in Syria in a tweet on Thursday, in which he vowed to continue the US’s “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran.
Today, @USTreasury sanctioned #Iran’s regime for preying on refugees, using them as cannon fodder in Syria. This comes just days after Germany banned Mahan Air, and after recent action against the regime’s despicable use of child soldiers. Maximum pressure continues.
4:47 PM – Jan 24, 2019
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The US reimposed nuclear-related sanctions against Iran after pulling out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal last May and imposed many other sanctions against the Regime related to its ballistic missile programme, sponsorship of terrorism, and human rights abuses. The US has urged other countries to do the same.
Also on Thursday, the US sanctions Iranian cargo airline Qeshm Fars Air and Armenia-based Flight Travel LLC for their ties to Iran’s “commercial” airliner Mahan Air, which is sanctioned for its ties to the IRGC-QF.
The Treasury Department statement read: “Since the onset of the Syrian civil war, Iran has routinely relied upon Iranian airlines such as Mahan Air to fly fighters and material to Syria to prop up the Assad regime. Mahan Air has transported IRGC-QF operatives, weapons, equipment, and funds abroad in support of the IRGC-QF’s destabilizing regional operations. Mahan Air has also transported IRGC-QF Cmdr. Qassem Soleimani, who is sanctioned under United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231 and therefore covered by a travel ban.”