The United States Tuesday asked permission to confiscate an Iranian plane impounded in Argentina on suspicions of links to international terrorist groups.

Argentina grounded the 747 cargo plane after its unannounced arrival from Mexico to an airport in Buenos Aires on June 8. The plane originally belonged to Iran’s Mahan airline affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) and sanctioned by the US for transporting arms to Syria and supporting terrorism.

The plane had arrived in Argentina with a crew of 19 people, including five Iranians, some with clear ties to the IRGC. Argentina confiscated their passports. In recent days, a judge ordered the release of 12 crew members after weeks of being denied permission to leave Argentina.

In June, Gerardo Milman, an Argentine lawmaker, told Iran International that Iranians aboard the Venezuelan plane planned “attacks on human targets.” Contrary to Iran’s claim June 13 that the plane was not owned by an Iranian company, Milman said the pilot was “a senior official of Qods (Quds) force,” Tehran’s extraterritorial intelligence and secret ops outfit listed as a terrorist organization by the United States.

Early in 2022, a Venezuelan government company decided to set up a cargo division that came to be called Emtrasur Cargo and its first plane was the Boeing 747-300M bought or leased from Mahan airlines and christened ‘Louisa Caceres Arismendi.’

The grounding of the 747 sparked weeks of intrigue as well as concern within the Argentine government over its ties to Iran and Venezuela and companies sanctioned by the US.

Agentinian lawmaker Gerardo Milman

The confiscation request by the US Department of Justice followed the unsealing of a July 19 warrant for the plane's seizure in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, which alleged that the aircraft could be confiscated because it violated export control laws, the DOJ said.

The DOJ said the US-origin Boeing 747-300 aircraft is subject to sanctions as its sale from Iran's Mahan Air to Emtrasur last year, part of the Venezuelan Consortium of Aeronautical Industries and Air Services (Conviasa), violates U.S. export laws. Both companies are sanctioned by the United States for alleged collaboration with terrorist organizations.

"The Department of Justice will not tolerate transactions that violate our sanctions and export laws," said Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen of the DOJ's National Security Division in the statement.

The US move comes amid stalled talks to revive the 2915 Iran nuclear agreement, JCPOA. Apparently, after 16 months of indirect talks between Iran and the US, Tehran insists that the IRGC should be removed from the US list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO).

One intriguing part of the nearly two-month-long saga was the identity of the plane’s Iranian pilot. Shortly after the plane was impounded it became clear that the pilot was Gholamreza Ghasemi, a known IRGC Qods Force operative and reportedly a relative of Iran’s current interior minister Ahmad Vahidi. The other Iranians were also linked to IRGC or its terror-linked companies.

Mahan Air is sanctioned for ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF), a US-designated terrorist organization. The US sanctioned Conviasa in 2019 for its ties to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government.

"The seizure of this aircraft demonstrates our determination to hold accountable those who seek to violate US sanctions and export control laws," said U.S. Attorney Matthew Graves.

Fourteen Venezuelans and five Iranians were traveling on the plane when it arrived in Buenos Aires. Seven of them are still detained in Argentina.

Argentina's Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

With reporting by Reuters

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