Argentine police raided the hotel that houses the crew of the stranded plane connected to the IRGC

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) – Police officers ransacked the hotel on Tuesday where the Venezuelan and Iranian crew of a mysterious plane were stuck in the main Buenos Aires international airport as authorities blocked its exit between suspicions about its crew and US sanctions against Iran.

Federal judge Federico Villena ordered the raid on the Hotel Plaza Canning, outside Buenos Aires, which housed the crew of the Venezuelan-owned Boeing 747 cargo plane loaded with car parts.

The plane has been blocked in Argentina’s largest airport since June 6, when Argentine authorities seized the passports of five Iranians who are among at least 17 crew members who arrived in Argentina on board the plane.

Argentine security minister, Aníbal Fernández, said the government received information from foreign intelligence agencies that at least some Iranian crew members were part of “companies linked to the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard of Iran”, which is It has been officially listed as a terrorist organization by the United States government since 2007.

There do not appear to be warrants for the arrest of any of the crew members.

There are numerous suspects surrounding the plane, including how its operators reported fewer crew members than actually on board, an unusually large contingent for a cargo plane.

A Venezuelan-owned Boeing 747 taxis onto the runway after landing at Ambrosio Taravella Airport in Cordoba, Argentina on Monday, June 6, 2022. (Photo AP / Sebastian Borsero)

Until it was sold to Emtrasur about a year ago, the plane was owned by Mahan Air of Iran, which the US government sanctioned for allegedly aiding the Quds Force and terrorist activities.

The plane had stopped in other Latin American countries, including Paraguay and Mexico, in the previous months, according to flight tracking services.

Opposition leaders in Argentina have criticized the government for allowing the plane to land in the country.

Argentine authorities insist they found no irregularities in the plane’s crew and the head of the Federal Intelligence Agency, Agustín Rossi, criticized the opposition for linking it to international terrorism.

Rossi said the plane was carrying cargo for several Argentine auto parts companies that he loaded into Mexico before stopping in Caracas and arriving in Argentina on June 6. He first landed in the central city of Córdoba due to weather conditions that prevented him from landing in Ezeiza, just outside Buenos Aires.

“The cargo of the plane has been verified in every possible way,” Rossi told a local radio station.

Police officers find themselves at the Plaza Central Hotel during a court raid involving the crew of a Venezuelan-owned Boeing 747 cargo plane in Buenos Aires, Argentina on Tuesday, June 14, 2022. (AP Photo / Gustavo Garello)

The unusually large crew had raised suspicions earlier in Paraguay, where the plane landed last month in Ciudad del Este, near the borders of Argentina and Brazil, where it remained between May 13-16, the minister said. of the Interior of Paraguay, Federico González at a local radio station on Wednesday.

The plane landed in Paraguay with “18 crew members, including seven Iranians and 11 Venezuelans,” Douglas Cubilla, airport chief of the Paraguay National Civil Air Force Directorate, told a local radio station on May 18. . “Cargo planes always have six or seven crew members” and the large number of crew members “caught our attention.”

Two management officials, including the head of Ciudad del Este airport, were removed from their posts due to irregularities involving the plane, González said.

It was only after the plane left Paraguay that officials learned it “belonged to an Iranian company suspended with sanctions by the US Treasury Department” and that the Iranian crew was part of the Quds Force, González said. .

The plane appears to have carried cigarettes out of Ciudad del Este, González said.

González said Paraguay alerted the region’s intelligence agencies of the plane and its crew, though it did not specify when this occurred.

Uruguay had previously refused entry of the plane into its airspace before it landed in Argentina.

Argentina has suffered two terrorist attacks that authorities blame Iran, one explosion in 1992 at the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires and another on a Jewish organization in 1994. Argentina calls for the arrest of several officials Iranians, although Iran denies involvement.

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