Islamabad: Amid continued tensions between Tehran and Washington, the US Justice Department has seized 36 Iranian-linked news website domains accusing them of spreading disinformation.
“Pursuant to court orders, the United States seized 33 websites used by the Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union (IRTVU) and three websites operated by Kata’ib Hizballah (KH), in violation of US sanctions,” reads a statement issued by the Justice Department.
On Oct 22, 2020, it said, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated IRTVU as a Specially Designated National (SDN) for being owned or controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force (IRGC).
According to the Justice Department, SDNs are prohibited from obtaining services, including website and domain services, in the United States without an OFAC license. “OFAC’s announcement explained that components of the government of Iran, to include IRTVU and others like it, disguised as news organizations or media outlets, targeted the United States with disinformation campaigns and malign influence operations,” it said. The department said the 33 domains were owned by a United States company, and the organization also did not obtain a license prior to utilizing the domain names.
Three other seized websites were operated by one of the main Iran-aligned Iraqi militia groups, Kata’ib Hizballah, which more than a decade ago was designated a foreign terrorist organization by the US, the department’s statement added.
“OFAC further explained that the IRGC provides lethal support to KH and other Iraqi Shia militia groups who target and kill Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces. The three domains operated by KH were owned by a United States company. KH did not obtain a license from OFAC prior to utilizing the domain names.”
It said that these website seizures were investigated by the US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security, Office of Export Enforcement and the FBI. The National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section prosecuted the seizure. “The National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section is investigating this matter in coordination with the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division and Atlanta Field Office,” the statement concluded.