Security

US forces inspect Mahan Air flight over Syria

By AFP and Al-Mashareq staff

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An Airbus A310-304 aircraft of Iranian airliner Mahan Air sits on the tarmac after landing at Sanaa International Airport on March 1st, 2015 a day after officials from the Houthi-controlled city signed an aviation agreement with Tehran. [Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

A US F-15 on a routine air mission in the vicinity of al-Tanf base in Syria's Homs province on Thursday (July 23rd) conducted a standard visual inspection of a Mahan Air plane, a spokesman for the coalition said.

"The visual inspection occurred to ensure the safety of coalition personnel at al-Tanf garrison," US Central Command (CENTCOM) spokesman Capt. Bill Urban said in a statement.

The base, located in the tri-border area near crossings between Syria and both Jordan and Iraq, houses international coalition forces taking part in the fight against the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).

The US jet inspected the passenger airliner "at a safe distance of approximately 1,000 metres from the airliner" on Thursday evening, the statement said

"Once the F-15 pilot identified the aircraft as a Mahan Air passenger plane, the F-15 safely opened distance from the aircraft," it said. "The professional intercept was conducted in accordance with international standards."

CENTCOM issued its statement after Iranian state television aired amateur footage of passengers on board screaming as the Mahan Air jetliner appeared to change course suddenly.

Another video apparently shot on a phone appeared to show at least two fighter jets flying beside the plane.

Iran's official IRNA news agency said the Mahan Air pilot made contact on the radio with two US fighter planes, and that the aircraft later landed safely in the Lebanese capital.

Syrian state media said that "planes believed to belong to the US-led coalition intercepted" the Iranian airliner over al-Tanf district on the border with Jordan and Iraq, forcing the captain to make "a sharp drop".

Mahan Air linked to IRGC

Mahan Air, which is blacklisted by the US and others, has been accused of collaborating with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its Quds Force.

The US imposed sanctions on Mahan Air -- Iran's first private airline -- in 2011, saying it provided financial and other support to the IRGC.

In March 2019, France revoked Mahan Air's license to operate in the country, accusing it of transporting military equipment and personnel to Syria and other Middle East war zones.

The decision came after Germany banned the airline in January 2019.

IRGC commander Brig. Gen. Nusratullah Hosseinipour in November admitted the Quds Force had used Mahan Air planes to move troops.

Mahan's planes have carried military equipment to Yemen on multiple occasions, and the sanctioned airliner recently has been transporting supplies to Venezuela, which is under US sanctions.

Regional experts have pointed out that these actions suggest the airline is not an ordinary passenger airline, but is rather part of a military entity that uses passengers as a human shield for military purposes.

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