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Iran goes ballistic as Italy jails Iranian.

Italy has arrested two Iranians and five Italians on charges of trying to smuggle arms to the Islamic Republic; Tehran has erupted in an unprecedented fury, damning Italy as "a slave of Israel" for the arrests. There was even a threat to jail Italian journalists in Italy in reprisal.

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One of the Iranians arrested was Hamid Masoumi-nejad, 51, for 15 years the reporter in Rome for Iranian state radio and television.

The Islamic Republic has focused almost its entire attention on him, to the neglect of the other Iranian, not to mention the five Italians.

Iranian nationals are arrested and charged with smuggling every few weeks in the United States, but those arrests have never received the attention and furious rhetoric that Iran has given the arrest last Wednesday of Masoumi-nejad.

The Association of Iranian Journalists and Reporters Saturday called the arrest "a Mafia-style tactic" aimed at pressuring Iran to suppress its nuclear program.

Some news reports said Italy accused the group of breaking an international arms embargo against Iran. But there is no such embargo. Under UN sanctions, Iran may not export arms, but it is allowed to import them. The crime was actually trying to export arms from Italy without the requisite license required for weapons.

The Italians started the investigation in June 2009. Antiterrorist prosecutor Armando Spataro said the probe included extensive wiretapping.

"Our investigations were complex because the traffickers played on the ambiguity between civilian and military arms," Spataro said.

Things became a little clearer when "one of the arrested Italians, a lawyer, went to Iran where he had contact with high officers of the Iranian army," Lieutenant Colonel Vincenzo Andreone said.

The other Iranian arrested was identified as Homayoun Bakhtiyari, 47, who had no stated occupation in Italy. Italian police said they are still looking for two other Iranians, and believes all four are "members of the Iranian secret services."

Andreone said, "The other Italians are entrepreneurs, the heads of various import-export or They had set up a triangular system to cover their tracks. The trafficking was taking place at least since 2007."

The group was allegedly filling orders for the Iranian government. The entrepreneurs bought weapons in Europe. Germany was their primary source; most of the purchases were legal, Andreone said. The weapons were then transported through front companies located in Britain, Switzerland, Romania and Dubai.

The traffickers were caught red handed, Andreone said, when a customs check in Romania found 200 gun sights. Another 100 were seized in London, he said.

"The order was for 1,000 gun sights, of which 150 were already sent to Iran via Switzerland," Andreone said. "We managed to interrupt the supply of 120 buoyancy compensators for divers designed for military use."

Anti-tank projectiles made in Bulgaria and former Soviet states as well as chemicals for explosives were also intercepted during the probe. Tracer bullets, pistols, optical equipment and parts for bombs that were seized were put on display by the Italian police.

Iran maintained the allegations have no basis. "Italian officials should explain how they made this arrest without so much as a shred of evidence," Majlis speaker Ali Larijani said. He called the arrest "a childish act."

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehman-Parast said the arrests were politically motivated; the true goal was to make waves in the international community.

The spokesman for the Majlis National Security Committee, Kazem Jalali, said the arrests reveal Italy "as a slave of Israel."

The head of the Association of Iranian Journalists and Reporters, Abbas Darvish-Tavangar, said Masoumi-nejad's arrest "was nothing but a Mafia-designed scenario, staged at the behest of Israel and the United States to prevent Iran from enriching uranium."

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But Darvish-Tavangar also said the real reason Masoumi-nejad was arrested was because the correspondent continuously reported on scandals and corruption charges against Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. "His crime was to cover demonstrations in which millions of Italians protested the policies of their government," Darvish-Tavangar said.

"His crime was exposing the corrupt nature of the Berlusconi government." Darvish-Tavangar didn't say why that would make Masoumi-nejad a target rather than the multitude of European reporters who have written much, much more about Berlusconi's problems.

Iranian state television asserted that Masoumi-nejad's hard-hitting coverage, such as a story on a woikers' strike, earned him a warning from Italian authorities in recent months. That assumed that Italy has Farsi-speaking censors who monitor his broadcasts, which is very unlikely.

The harshest remarks came from Mohammad Ali Ramim, an official of state broadcasting, who threatened retaliatory arrests. He said: "If the Italian government wants to treat our media colleague this way to gratify the cruel wishes of the United States, Britain and Israel, it will certainly see a reciprocal effect on its media people by the government of Iran."

After Italy's ambassador in Iran, Alberto Bradadnini, was summoned to Tehran's Foreign Ministry, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said, "I firmly reject any Iranian insinuation that the recent arrests by Italian magistrates were politically motivated."
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Publication:Iran Times International (Washington, DC)
Date:Mar 12, 2010
Words:831
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