A U.S. sanctioned Mahan Air pilot has told an IRGC-linked website in Tehran that he has once carried seven tons of "prohibited cargo" to Syria in 2013 with former Qods Force Commander Qasem Soleimani also on board.
Amir Assadollahi, the Mahan Air pilot, says he carried the prohibited cargo, most probably weapons and ammunitions on board a passenger aircraft with some 200 passengers.
Mahan Air was first sanctioned by the U.S. government in 2011 for secretly carrying weapons and IRGC forces to Syria. In December 2019 , U.S. Treasury imposed new sanctions on Mahan Air and its shipping company, accusing it of "transporting lethal aid from Iran to Yemen."
Iranian officials at the time ruled out the accusation and harshly criticized U.S. officials for the sanctions.
Assadollahi told the Razmandegan-e Eslam Association website, that Soleimani was seated in the pilot's cabin. The Razmandegan-e Eslam Association is an IRGC body that organizes eulogists for religious ceremonies and other occasions including crackdown on protesters.
Reminiscing about his association with Soleimani, the Mahan Air pilot told the website that he was ordered to land at Baghdad airport while he was flying to Syria with the cargo and Soleimani.
He claimed that the airport in Iraq was being controlled by U.S. forces and that the situation was not normal, adding that Soleimani took off his outfit and dressed as a flight engineer sitting all the time in the pilot's cabin while the Americans scanned the faces of all passengers, missing Soleimani.
Assadollahi also claimed that when the Iraqi forces wanted to inspect the cargo, he took out his wallet and showed U.S. dollar notes to the Iraqi officer.
When they finally made it to Damascus later that day, Soleimani told him "I would have given you a medal of honor if I were the President," claims Assadollahi.
Some other Islamic Republic insiders have also been observed telling different versions of this story. For example, another version of the same story has been also told in a video published by hardline website Mashregh News in February 2020.
Nonetheless, acknowledging the shipment of military equipment using passenger aircraft is tantamount to using human shield which is forbidden by international regulations.
The United States, EU, and regional countries have always criticized Iran for its destructive activities in the region.
U.S. President Donald Trump has defended the targeted killing of Soleimani in January 2020 and has called him "the number one international terrorist."
Mahan Air is notorious at international airports for serious technical faults for which its flights to Europe were banned for some time in the past.
Close cooperation with the revolutionary guards IRGC in the area of deployment of troops and military equipment for which the airline has been subjected to U.S. sanctions, carrying gold from Venezuela to Iran as part of a suspicious transaction between rogue states and continuing flights to and from China for a long time after all airlines stopped carrying passengers to the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, are among the reasons why Mahan Air has made a reputation in the aviation industry for all the wrong reasons.
In March 2020, when other airlines refused to fly to China, Mahan air established a special service to repatriate the Chinese passengers stranded in Turkey.
Iranian health officials as well as ordinary people have widely criticized Mahan air for its role in spreading the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, Iranian reporters have said after the publication of Captain Assadollahi's story that had a reform-minded publication broken the damning story about illegal shipments to Syria, the journalists and managers would have been in serious trouble on charges of compromising national security.
Ali Hossein Qazizadeh asked whether there are still individuals who would say that sanctioning Mahan Air was an "oppressive" act?