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Germany cites ‘security interests’ to ban Iranian airline

Mahan Air Airbus A310-304 EP-MNO. (Clemens Vasters/Flickr)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Germany has revoked the license of Iran’s Mahan Air airline, citing “security concerns” and the company’s activities in Syria, officials say.

The Federal Aviation Office (LBA) made the decision to ban the airline from landing in Germany with immediate effect after consultations with European allies and the United States, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said on January 21.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed the move and urged Washington’s allies to follow suit.

Mahan Air, Iran’s second-largest airline, has been under U.S. sanctions since 2011, and Washington has been urging other countries to penalize the airline. The U.S. Treasury has threatened to impose sanctions on countries or firms offering Mahan landing rights or services.

Tehran has accused the United States and Israel of attempting to undermine Iran’s relations with Europe in order to sabotage the 2015 deal that lifted sanctions against Iran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program.

But Seibert insisted that the decision to deny landing rights to Mahan Air was not the result of U.S. pressure, saying it was “based on considerations of our security needs.”

“It cannot be ruled out that this airline carries out transports to Germany that affect our security concerns,” the government spokesman told a news conference in Berlin.

“This is especially true against the backdrop of terrorist activities, intelligence on terrorist activities from the Iranian side and Iranian entities in Europe in the past,” he added.

Speaking in Brussels, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Berlin continued to back upholding the Iran nuclear deal.

But he said Germany will react in an appropriate way to “isolated developments,” pointing to the support of terrorism and espionage as examples.

German prosecutors said last week they had detained a 50-year-old German-Afghan dual citizen who had worked as a translator for the army on suspicion he had been spying for Iran. Tehran dismissed the allegations.

German Foreign Ministry spokesman Christofer Burger said that Mahan had ties to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and provided military transport flights between Iran and Syria.

Iran, along with Russia, has given President Bashar al-Assad crucial military and diplomatic support throughout the Syrian conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions.

Welcoming Berlin’s decision, Pompeo​ tweeted that the airline “transports weapons and fighters across the Middle East, supporting the Iranian regime’s destructive ambitions around the region.”

German media reported that the action was related to assassinations allegedly carried out by Tehran in Europe.

Mahan has been running four flights to Germany each week — three to Dusseldorf and one to Munich. Mahan also flies to France, Italy, Spain, and Greece.