The US seized 33 websites used by the Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union (IRTVU) and three websites operated by Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH), in violation of US sanctions, the Department of Justice stated Tuesday.
On October 22, 2020, 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).
SDNs are prohibited from obtaining services, including website and domain services, in the US without an OFAC license. OFAC’s announcement explained that components of the government of Iran, “disguised as news organizations or media outlets, targeted the United States with disinformation campaigns and malign influence operations.”
The 33 websites seized were operated by domains that are owned by a US company. IRTVU did not obtain a license from OFAC prior to utilizing the domain names
Iran PressTV, Iran’s Arabic-language Al Alam television news network, Yemen’s al-Masirah TV channel and Bahrain’s Lualua television network were among the targeted outlets.
Three additional websites seized were operated by Kata’ib Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades, an Iraqi Shia paramilitary militia which is part of the Popular Mobilization Forces, that are supported and guided by Iran.
On July 2, 2009, OFAC designated KH an SDN, and the Department of State designated KH a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
The announcements described KH as “an Iraqi terrorist organization that committed, directed, supported or posed a significant risk of committing acts of violence against Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces.”
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 US company. KH did not obtain a license from OFAC prior to utilizing the domain names.
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.
Several of the sites are already back online after changing their domains.