Week of January 1, 2024 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council
- Tragedy Strikes Kerman: Soleimani Anniversary Ceremony Hit by Deadly Terror Attacks
- IRGC Responds to the Assassination of Al-Aarouri in Beirut, Says Axis of Resistance Will Not Succumb to Strategic Errors
- Iran’s Parliamentary Elections: Four Prominent Candidates Confirmed Eligible
- Significant Rise in Internet Costs Across Iran
- Military tensions in the Red Sea: Alborz Frigate’s Passage Through Bab El-Mandeb Strait
- Released from Evin Prison, Santiago Sanchez returns to Spain
- Alarming Rise in Executions in Iran
- Massive Snapp Food Data Breach in Iran Sparks Security Concerns: $30,000 Data Sale Offered
On Wednesday, January 3, two explosions rocked the fourth anniversary ceremony of Qassem Soleimani in Kerman, causing numerous casualties. Iranian authorities have classified the explosions as bombings and terrorist acts and some figures in Iran – including Mohammad Mokhber, the first vice president of Iran – initially blamed Israeli agents for the incident on Wednesday.
However, ISIS claimed responsibility for the Kerman explosions in a post on its Telegram channel on Thursday. The statement attributed to ISIS identified two of its members, asserting they detonated their suicide belts during Soleimani’s ceremony, killing over 300 Shiite “polytheists.”
A Kerman emergency head initially reported 103 deaths and 211 injuries, some of which were in critical condition. However, the death toll was later revised to 84. According to the Faraja news agency, three police officers, including a lieutenant colonel, and three paramedics were killed.
In a statement, Ali Khamenei expressed sympathy and solidarity with the “grieving families.” He promised that Soleimani’s “soldiers” would not tolerate the “vileness and crimes of the heartless criminals,” and promised a stern response. On Thursday, the Iranian government declared a national mourning, with Kerman observing three days of mourning.
Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi, in an interview with Iran’s News Network, called the explosions a “conspiracy.” The spokesperson for the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, Abolfazl Amouei, announced a field investigation mission to Kerman. The National Police Chief Ahmadreza Radan and the Minister of Health also visited the site.
Authorities indicated that the blasts were caused by two bomb explosions that occurred minutes apart. According to Vahidi, the first explosion occurred around 3 PM, followed by a second explosion around 3:20 PM, which caused the majority of the casualties. A ten-minute gap had been reported earlier by the mayor of Kerman.
The attacks occurred near the Saheb al-Zaman Mosque along the route to Kerman’s Martyrs Cemetery. This was roughly one kilometer from Soleimani’s mausoleum, outside the area of the inspection gates, where individuals had gathered to attend a ceremony marking the fourth anniversary of Soleimani’s death.
Many countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia, condemned the terrorist act and expressed sympathy for the victims. The United Nations Security Council has condemned the recent explosions in Kerman in a statement released today, calling for the identification and prosecution of those responsible for these heinous acts of terrorism, including the perpetrators, organizers, financial backers, and supporters.
Matthew Miller, spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, described the Kerman explosions as horrific and expressed condolences to the families of the victims. Miller also dismissed claims of U.S. involvement in the incident as absurd, and indicated that the U.S. had no reason to suspect Israeli involvement.
Likewise, the New York Times reported on Thursday that six Israeli officials, speaking anonymously, denied that Israel had any role in the incident. As details on this horrific tragedy continue to be clarified, many Iranians continue to raise doubts about the incident. Abbas Abdi, a journalist and political activist, expressed concern about whether this act of inhumanity is indicative of a new strategic approach against Iran or merely a blind act of revenge.
IRGC Responds to the Assassination of Al-Aarouri in Beirut, Says Axis of Resistance Will Not Succumb to Strategic Errors
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has strongly condemned the assassination of Deputy Head of Hamas’ Political Bureau, Saleh al-Arouri, in Beirut. An IRGC statement stated that such acts will not derail the resistance movement’s strategic calculations.
Hamas’ office in Beirut’s Dahiyeh area was struck on Tuesday, January 2nd. In addition to Mr. al-Arouri, two other Hamas commanders, Samir Fandi and Azzam al-Aqra, were killed. The IRGC pointed to a symbolic coincidence between the deaths of Hamas commanders and the fourth anniversary of Qasem Soleimani’s killing.
Notably, the statement indicated that “the resistance and Hezbollah would not be swayed by the malicious intentions of the Zionist regime and its supporters.” Israel’s “madness, barbarism, and warmongering,” supported by the “terrorist state of America,” was characterized by the IRGC as the cause of the attack.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Rego clarified, without confirming Israel’s involvement in the Beirut attack, that the attack was not directed at Lebanon or Hezbollah. However, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati strongly condemned the attack, warning that Israel is seeking to drag Lebanon into a new phase of the conflict.
The Iranian Foreign Minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, blamed Israel on Wednesday, January 3rd, for the drone attack on Hamas’ office and the assassination of al-Arouri. He asserted that Israel’s “terror machine” poses a real threat to peace and security. The Foreign Minister expressed condolences to Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas’ Political Bureau, and the Palestinian people, while condemning the assassination as a terrorist attack. According to him, Israel, with direct support from the United States, has failed to achieve its objectives despite weeks of “war crimes, genocide, and destruction” in Gaza and the West Bank.
Nasser Kanaani, a spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, strongly condemned the attack on Hamas’ office in Lebanon, calling it a violation of Lebanese sovereignty. He urged for the UN Security Council to take immediate action.
Saleh al-Arouri was a key commander in Hamas’ military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, which maintained close ties with Iran. As a direct link between Hamas and Hezbollah, he lived in the heart of Dahieh, Hezbollah’s stronghold in Beirut. Israeli government spokesman Mark Rego reiterated that al-Arouri’s death was not the result of a Lebanon or Hezbollah attack.
Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon, declared that the murder of al-Arouri would not go unpunished. Any Israeli war against Lebanon would be met with a boundless and lawless response from Hezbollah because of the assassination.
Iranian media has reported that several well-known candidates have been confirmed as eligible to run in the upcoming parliamentary elections, despite prior disqualifications. As reported by IRNA, Masoud Pezeshkian, Ali Motahari, Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, and Gholamreza Tajgardoon have now been approved by executive committees. The Guardian Council rescinded the disqualification of these four individuals, according to IRNA, citing its sources.
In the last election, Pezeshkian, a former Minister of Health and current member of the Parliament for Tabriz, sought to run for the presidency but the Guardian Council rejected his eligibility. As a member of parliament for three terms, Motahari served as vice-speaker during the tenth parliament, but was disqualified by the Guardian Council in the eleventh parliament based on allegations of financial misconduct. As the Secretary-General of the Moderation and Development Party and a close associate of former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Bagher Nobakht advocates participating in upcoming parliamentary elections and forming a new front against conservative supporters of Ebrahim Raisi. Tajgardoon has served in the Iranian parliament for various terms, entering the parliament from the Gachsaran constituency.
On March 1, Iran will hold its twelfth round of parliamentary elections and its sixth round of elections for the Assembly of Experts. In a meeting with eulogists and poets closely aligned with the government, Ali Khamenei spoke for the second time this month about the importance of participating in the elections. Khamenei reiterated that opposition to the elections amounts to opposition to the Islamic Republic and even to Islam itself. Just last week, dozens of Iranian political and civil activists issued a statement emphasizing the separation of religion from government and advocating “civil disobedience” as a means of resolving the country’s crisis.
Recent domestic surveys indicate significantly declining civic participation and support in Iran as a result of political and social dissatisfaction. In spite of his exhortations to participate, Khamenei has not addressed the extensive disqualifications of candidates or the government’s disregard for popular demands. These include freedom of dress and identification and punishment of those responsible for violence against protestors.
The cost of internet access in Iran has surged in the past week, prompting a serious backlash from citizens. According to Iranian media, the country’s telecommunications regulatory authority has approved a 30% increase in internet tariffs. Over the next six months, the regulatory body and the heads of telecommunications operators agreed to utilize these new revenues to increase 5G site coverage by 10%, 4G coverage by 96%, and average internet speed by 30%.
In a letter to President Ebrahim Raisi in December, internet operators had requested a 100% increase in tariffs. However, the announcement comes at a time when users already rely on VPNs, further increasing household internet expenses. Given these challenges, there is a possibility that the price increase could negatively affect online businesses and reduce the use of social networks. Despite no changes in internet tariffs since 2017, experts assert that the rates were already high and have been structured to allow for periodic increases.
According to the state-affiliated Young Journalists Club, new internet packages from MCI are now priced at 6,000 tomans (approximately 12 cents) per gigabyte, a significant increase from the previous rate of 2,000 tomans (about 4 cents). As part of its efforts to establish a national internet similar to China’s, the Islamic Republic has blocked many websites and messaging applications.
During nationwide protests, internet restrictions have been intensified. Freedom House reported in 2023 that Iran had seen the worst decline in internet freedom worldwide, earning a negative score of 5 out of a 100.
Recent developments in the Red Sea region have prompted Iranian media outlets with close ties to the Revolutionary Guards to report the passage of the Iranian Navy frigate “Alborz” through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait into the Red Sea. It is unclear what the exact purpose of this frigate’s entry is, and whether it indicates Iran’s intention to provide military support to the Houthis as they have repeatedly targeted international shipping vessels and U.S. naval ships operating in the area.
A meeting between Mohammad Abdul-Salam, a member of the Houthi group’s political council, and officials from the Iranian foreign ministry preceded this announcement. In the past, Abdul-Salam had met with Ali Akbar Ahmadian, the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council.
According to the Tasnim news agency, Iranian naval groups have conducted missions in international waters since early 2009 in order to secure shipping lanes, counter piracy, and perform various other tasks. Yemen’s Houthi group has previously declared its intention to prevent Israeli-affiliated ships from passing through the Red Sea in response to Israel’s ongoing military bombardment in Gaza. The attacks on commercial vessels have prompted the United States to respond to several distress calls. On Sunday, this included U.S. Navy helicopters firing on and sinking three Houthi “small boats” attempting to approach a cargo ship in the Red Sea, which reportedly fired in the direction of the helicopters. According to reports, at least 10 Houthi fighters were killed in the incident, while two others were injured. A fourth boat fled the scene.
In a telephone conversation with his Iranian counterpart, the British Foreign Secretary David Cameron placed the responsibility for preventing these attacks on Iran. However, Iran’s Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian criticized what he termed the “double standards of the United States and some Western countries regarding Gaza and Ukraine,” calling them “condemnable.” Furthermore, Naser Kanaani, the spokesperson for the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, rejected the accusations. He stated that baseless allegations by any authority, including British officials, are not credible.
The UK Defense Secretary, Grant Shapps, announced British military readiness to take direct action against the Houthi group in Yemen, which poses a threat to cargo ships in the Red Sea. In his remarks, Shapps emphasized the UK’s commitment to countering what he described as “bad actors” in the region. As a result of this situation, a British warship has been deployed as part of a multinational naval force led by the United States aimed at protecting vessels in the Red Sea.
Zaid al-Shami, the Houthi Minister of Information, has stated that Yemen will not change its position in the face of threats from the United States, Britain, or any other country. Despite the fact that the internationally-recognized government of Yemen has been relocated to Saudi Arabia, the Houthi group controls significant territory in Yemen and proclaims itself as the rightful governing authority.
The United Nations Security Council convened on January 3rd to discuss the Houthi attacks against commercial shipping. Members of the Security Council have urged the Houthis to cease their attacks and called for the release of the Galaxy Leadership and its crew, who have been detained since November 19.
During the Security Council meeting, Chris Lu, a U.S. diplomat, stated that the Houthi attacks had reached a turning point, emphasizing their significant threat to maritime security, global trade, and Yemen’s fragile humanitarian situation. Japan’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Kazuyuki Yamazaki, also echoed Lu’s request for a Security Council intervention to safeguard global peace and security.
Naser Kanaani, the spokesperson for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, announced on Monday, January 1st, that a Spanish citizen imprisoned in Iran had been released. Some Iranian media outlets initially reported the news on Sunday that this individual, Santiago Sánchez, had been released and was on his way home to Spain. The Iranian embassy stated that the release of this Spanish national was in accordance with the law and based on “friendly and historical relations between the two countries.”
Sánchez was detained in Iran in 2022 on the eve of the FIFA World Cup. He reportedly traveled to the Middle East to watch the World Cup games and support Spain. The 41-year-old Sanchez entered Iran after visiting Turkey and Iraq, apparently intending to continue his journey to the south of the country and then travel by boat to reach Qatar, where the World Cup was held. Earlier, amid the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sánchez had previously traveled to Iran by bicycle. His 2022 trip took place as Iran’s political situation was highly unstable, with ongoing protests amid the Woman, Life, Freedom movement in many cities.
On October 1, 2022, Sánchez posted his last Instagram message depicting his journey in a village in northern Iraq. On October 2, 2022, he was arrested at the Aycheh Cemetery in Saqqez, where Mahsa Amini was buried just a few weeks before. His parents learned of his detention in Iran a few days later through the Spanish Foreign Ministry.
During the period of nationwide protests in Iran, Sánchez was not the only Spanish national detained. Ana Benítez, another Spanish citizen, was also arrested and was released in February 2023. With the release of Mr. Sanchez, Iranian authorities claim that all Spanish citizens imprisoned in Iran have been released.
There are reports that approximately ten citizens of western countries are currently imprisoned in Iran. In recent years, some nationals of Western countries have been released in exchange for the unfreezing of blocked funds or as part of trade deals with Iranian citizens who are imprisoned abroad.
A surge in executions has deeply concerned human rights activists in Iran. This includes the execution of at least seven people who were sentenced on security charges in Iran in the past two months.
Davood Abdollahi, a Kurdish prisoner, was executed in Qazalhessar Prison on January 2. Several days ago, Abdollahi went on a hunger strike in protest of his impending execution, according to an informed source. After his execution, Abdollahi’s body was handed over to his family in order to maintain ‘secrecy’ and ‘silence,’ and it was buried in Mahabad.
In anticipation of his execution, Mr. Abdollahi had been placed in solitary confinement last week. Previously, two of his co-defendants, Ghasem Abasteh and Ayoub Karimi, were executed on November 5 and November 29, respectively. They were detained on charges of ‘membership in Al-Qaeda,’ ‘waging war,’ and ‘assisting in the murder of a cleric known as Abdolrahim Tina.’ Mr. Abdollahi, along with six other individuals, including Ayoub Karimi, Anwar Khazri, Kamran Sheikha, Farhad Salimi, Ghasem Abasteh, and Khosrow Besharat, were sentenced to death.
According to human rights activists, Abdollahi and his co-defendants had been tortured and harassed in prison, leading them to make false confessions and accept charges against themselves. There have been numerous violations of human rights and legal norms during the legal proceedings of all seven defendants in this case.
After being held in “temporary detention” for four years, their sentences were overturned once by the Supreme Court due to “lack of confession” and other inconsistencies. However, their case was referred to the Revolutionary Court Branch 15 under the jurisdiction of Judge Abolqasem Salavati, where they were again sentenced to death without the flaws in the case being addressed.
Additionally, the Iranian judiciary has announced that four individuals have been executed in Urmia Prison on charges of “espionage and sabotage” for Israel. The execution was announced one day after the burial of Razi Mousavi, a senior commander of the Quds Force killed in strikes inside Syria widely attributed to Israel. Iranian authorities accused the executed individuals of kidnapping people and forcing them to falsely identify themselves as Iranian security agents by threatening and torturing them, and then spreading lies about their future activities. The case had also involved six other defendants, Wafa Hanareh, Aram Omri, Rahman Parhazou and Nassim Namazi, who were executed one year ago.
However, one day before, human rights organizations reported the transfer of five prisoners to solitary confinement for execution, indicating that the fifth prisoner was “Mansour Rassouli“. Mr. Rassouli’s name is not mentioned in the statement of the judiciary about the people who were executed. Rassouli has been the subject of countervailing claims of espionage, with Israeli media initially reporting that they had interrogated him on Iranian soil, that he was a member of the Revolutionary Guards and that he confessed to plotting to assassinate an Israeli diplomat abroad. However, a subsequent video indicates that the video was filmed under duress.
Hackers who previously compromised the information of ‘Tap30’ users claimed to have compromised the data of over 20 million users of Snap Food, an online food delivery service. These hackers have published the hacked data on their Telegram channel, containing over 20 million usernames, passwords, emails, names, surnames, phone numbers, location data, complete addresses, telephone numbers, and details of over 600,000 order payments, including customer names and credit card numbers.
In order to verify their claims, they have provided a sample of the hacked data for sale at a price of $30,000. According to the hacked samples, the latest data was leaked on December 10, 2023.
In an official statement, Snapp Food in Iran admitted that its platform was hacked and 20 million users’ personal information had been compromised. It has taken responsibility for this incident and stated its intention to negotiate with the hackers to prevent the dissemination of user information as much as possible.
While Snapp Food has assured its customers that all banking information, security codes, and passwords are kept in “complete security,” many users are understandably concerned about the information leaked.
In a recent development highlighting the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East, Seyed Razi Mousavi – a senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander and associate of the late General Qasem Soleimani – was killed in an Israeli missile attack on the Zeynabiyeh area in the suburbs of Damascus. Since Mousavi’s assassination, Iranian military and civilian officials have issued stern warnings to Israel, signaling potential harsh retaliation to what they view as a blatant act of aggression by the Israeli government.
This incident adds to already increased tensions in a region marred by complex geopolitical dynamics that have dangerously surged since October 7th. Moreover, the killing of Mousavi ahead of the fourth anniversary of Soleimani’s assassination by a U.S. drone in Iraq, during what Iran calls the “Week of Resistance,” has further intensified Iranian officials’ reactions.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has condemned Israel’s actions and promised retribution as well. These developments occur against a backdrop of frequent Israeli strikes in Syria aimed at curbing Iran’s military influence through support to allied militia groups.
Israel’s Defense Minister implicitly acknowledged responsibility for Mousavi’s killing, with Iranian political and military officials vowing that Israel will “pay the price” for its actions. Meanwhile, the United States struck targeted locations associated with Iran-backed militias this week, including Kata’ib, Hezbollah, and other related groups identified by the U.S. Department of Defense as militants supported by Iran.
The context of these U.S. strikes is significant. They were a response to a drone attack on a U.S. airbase in Erbil, which resulted in injuries to three American soldiers. In retaliation, the U.S. targeted multiple locations, reportedly causing several militant casualties. According to the Iraqi government, these strikes also resulted in the death of an Iraqi soldier and injuries to several others, including some civilians.
The Iraqi government decried these strikes as a violation of its national sovereignty, emphasizing that such actions are unacceptable under any circumstances. The Iraqi statement highlighted the contradiction between these aggressive acts and the U.S.’s declared intention to improve relations with Iraq, stating that these strikes are hostile moves that work against the shared interests of security and stability in the region.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has reported a significant acceleration in Iran’s high-purity uranium enrichment activities. While the enrichment level had previously decreased to 60% purity at a rate of three kilograms per month, it has now reportedly tripled to nine kilograms.
This increase in enrichment has been observed at Iran’s Natanz and Fordow facilities. Earlier in the summer, Iran had slowed down its high-purity uranium enrichment, presumably to reduce tensions. However, the IAEA notes that the enrichment levels have returned to their mid-2023 rates. According to the IAEA report, the uranium enrichment level at the Fordow and Natanz facilities has risen to nine kilograms per month over the past two months. IAEA inspectors confirmed this increase during their recent visits on December 19 and 24.
While enriched uranium at 60% purity is not in itself sufficient for nuclear weapons, it can be further enriched to 90% purity, which is sufficient for nuclear armaments. The IAEA has cautioned that a 42-kilogram stockpile of 60% enriched uranium cannot be discounted in bomb-constructing potential.
The United Nations Security Council recently dedicated a session to Iran’s nuclear program and the status of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Rosemary DiCarlo, the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, warned of a diplomatic stalemate in reviving the JCPOA and noted that Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile is now approximately twenty times the limit set by the agreement. DiCarlo echoed UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ calls for all parties to exercise utmost restraint and explore all diplomatic avenues for reviving the agreement, stressing its importance for global peace and security.
Previously in November, the French news agency AFP, citing another confidential IAEA document, reported that Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile had been fifteen times the limit allowed under the JCPOA; those numbers have increased since then. The JCPOA has been moribund since the U.S. withdrawal in 2018, and negotiations for Washington’s return and Tehran’s full compliance have not yet been successful.
In response to the U.S.’s withdrawal from the JCPOA and the failure of other parties to meet its benefits, Iran ceased adhering to the nuclear deal’s restrictions. Mohammad Eslami, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, responded to U.S. concerns about increased high-purity uranium production, stating that Iran had not altered its production or created new capacity.
The White House had earlier expressed deep concerns over the IAEA’s report about this increase in production. Eslami dismissed these reports as “media hype,” suggesting they aim to shift attention from Gaza to Iran. He claimed the high-purity uranium production is for medical applications.
Adrienne Watson, a spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council, found the timing of the most recent IAEA report concerning, particularly given the increase in “dangerous and destabilizing activities” by Iran-backed groups in the region, including drone attacks in Iraq and Syria and targeting commercial ships in the Black Sea by Houthi forces.
Iran’s Guardian Council Sends ‘Modesty and Hijab’ Bill Back to Parliament for Clarification and Amendments
The Guardian Council has returned the ‘Modesty and Hijab’ bill to the Iranian Parliament for further review. Hadi Tahan Nazif, the spokesperson for the Guardian Council, announced on Tuesday, December 25, that the bill was sent back due to various ambiguities and issues identified in it.
Nazif did not provide specific details about these ambiguities but stated, “In its previous review, the Guardian Council had numerous objections and ambiguities regarding the bill aimed at supporting families through the promotion of modesty and hijab culture. The Parliament addressed these issues in its sessions, and we subsequently revisited the bill. It was found that many of the concerns had been resolved.”
He added, “As soon as the Parliament rectifies the remaining issues, we will review the amended bill again and announce the final opinion of the Guardian Council.” The Guardian Council had initially returned the bill to the Parliament, citing 109 issues and 23 spelling errors. The Council’s primary concerns revolved around ambiguities in many clauses of the bill and deemed several articles and provisions to be contrary to the constitution and Sharia law.
A fatal car accident near the city entrance of Bam in Kerman province claimed the life of 23-year-old Malika Mohammadi, a member of the Iranian women’s national soccer team. The incident, which occurred in the early hours of Sunday, December 24, also injured two other female footballers, Behnaz Taherkhani and Zahra Khavajui.
Ali Taheri, the head of the pre-hospital emergency service at Bam University of Medical Sciences, reported to the IRNA news agency, “The rollover of a Tiba car at the entrance of Bam city resulted in one fatality (a member of the women’s national football team) and three injuries.” According to Taheri, Mohammadi died at the scene of the accident, while the other two footballers, along with the driver, were injured and taken to the hospital. Malika Mohammadi was a midfielder for the Khatun Bam football team and a member of the Iranian women’s national football team. The two injured athletes also play for the Khatun Bam team.
The funeral procession for Malika Mohammadi took place at Fajr Stadium in Bam on the Monday afternoon on December 25. A gathering of athletes and teammates attended the ceremony. According to Iranian domestic media reports, the body of the 23-year-old footballer was moved to Shiraz following the funeral, and per her family’s request, it will be transferred to the United States for burial and interment. Malika Mohammadi was born and raised in the United States and had traveled to Iran to join the women’s national football team until her life was tragically cut short.
NIAC expresses its heartfelt sympathy to the family of Mohammadi and to the entire Iranian and Iranian-American community who admired Mohammadi.Back to top