Iran’s US-sanctioned Mahan Air airline transferred “illicit cargo” to Syria using a civilian airliner with hundreds of passengers on board under slain commander Qassem Soleimani’s supervision, according to a Mahan Air pilot.
Mahan Air pilot Amir Assadollahi told a website affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on Thursday that he once flew a passenger plane carrying seven tons of “illicit cargo” to the Syrian capital Damascus in 2013 with Soleimani in the cockpit.
Soleimani, who headed the Quds Force – the overseas arms of the IRGC – was killed in a US airstrike at Baghdad’s international airport on January 3.
#Qatar’s state-run broadcaster Al Jazeera published a podcast glorifying #Iran’s slain Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (#IRGC) Qods Force commander Qassem #Soleimani. A few days later, Al Jazeera deleted the podcast link from its social media pages. https://t.co/KHc1vOpddk pic.twitter.com/amnVdVkO99— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) May 13, 2020
The plane was carrying about 200 passengers, Assadollahi told an IRGC-affiliated website.
The interview has since been deleted.
While Assadollahi did not give details of the cargo he flew to Syria, Iran has previously exported weapons and military equipment to the country.
Soleimani was the central figure in Iran’s support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad throughout the ongoing war in Syria. The IRGC dispatched thousands of Quds Force members to Syria to train and fight alongside the Syrian Armed Forces and al-Assad’s militias.
Rami #Makhlouf has warned President Bashar al-#Assad that if he loses him, he also loses the Alawite community, according to former Syrian diplomat Bassam Barabandi. Discover the roots of the feud here.https://t.co/Vxx9BLpzjK pic.twitter.com/iRRNq5ZaKL— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) June 6, 2020
Mahan Air sanctions
The US had imposed sanctions on Mahan Air in 2011 for its links to the IRGC and for smuggling weapons to Iran’s proxies in the Middle East’s war zones on behalf of the Quds Force.
At the time, Iranian officials denied the allegations and strongly criticized the US for sanctioning the airline.
In a statement at the time, Mahan Air denied it has any connections to the Iranian military, saying the US sanctions are part of America’s efforts to pressure Iran.
Recently, Mahan Air has been accused of being a significant contributing factor to the spread of the coronavirus in Iran because it continued its flights to several cities in China, where the outbreak of the pandemic began, throughout February despite an official Iranian ban on flights to China being announced on January 31.