Officials announced Monday that five Iranian crew members of a cargo plane stalled in Argentina since last week had their passports temporarily detained pending an investigation into alleged ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
After Security Minister Anibal Fernandez stated information had been received from “foreign organizations” suggesting individuals of the crew may be tied to enterprises with ties to the Guards, a judge ordered their travel documents be delayed for another 72 hours on Monday.
Iran’s ideological army, the Revolutionary Guards, is on a US blacklist of foreign “terrorist organizations.”
On Monday, Fernandez told Perfil radio that a routine check revealed “things that were not reasonable.”
He explained that “they had declared a crew that was smaller than the one that traveled,” and that the situation was “still under investigation.”
The five Iranians, he said, were staying in a hotel.
Officials initially stated that their passports had been confiscated, but that they would be returned if they left the country on a scheduled trip while the plane’s origins were investigated.
The Venezuelan Boeing 747 cargo plane, which was purportedly carrying vehicle components, landed in Cordoba, Argentina on Monday last week, then attempted to go to Uruguay but was denied entry, and was forced to return to Ezeiza, just outside of Buenos Aires.
There were also 14 Venezuelans on the crew who were free to escape.
The aircraft’s position in the area had been alerted by neighboring Paraguay, according to Paraguayan interior minister Federico Gonzalez.
“Other intelligence services in the region were notified, and Argentina and other nations responded,” he said.
Argentina’s decision, Iran claimed Monday, was part of a “propaganda” effort against Tehran, amid tensions with Western countries over talks to resurrect a 2015 nuclear agreement.
The cargo jet was grounded just days before Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro traveled to Tehran on Saturday to sign a 20-year cooperation accord with Iran, which is also under US sanctions.
The plane’s grounding, according to Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh, was part of an effort to “create a sense of unease.”
“These previous weeks have been replete with misinformation, psychological operations, and warfare of words that seek to infiltrate people’s minds and composure,” Khatibzadeh added.
“This is one of those occasions.”
According to him, Iran’s Mahan Air sold the plane to a Venezuelan business last year.
The US has accused Mahan Air of having ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
The court’s decision to keep the crew’s passports was made after the DAIA organization, which represents Argentina’s Jewish population, successfully petitioned to be named as a plaintiff in the probe.
Former Iranian leaders are wanted by Interpol for their alleged involvement in a 1994 attack on a Jewish center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and injured hundreds more.
It is still the deadliest terror assault in the country with the greatest Jewish population in South America.
The jet was grounded after the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors passed a resolution condemning Iran.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which the US withdrew in 2018, is the subject of talks in Vienna that have been ongoing since April of last year.
Iran received sanctions relief in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program, ensuring that it would not be able to create a nuclear weapon, which Tehran has consistently denied seeking to achieve.
Iran said on Monday that all of the steps it has taken to walk out of the deal are “reversible.”