On December 8, the United States imposed sanctions on two men and one university:
- Ambassador Hasan Irlu, Iran’s diplomatic envoy to the Houthis in Yemen
- Yousef Ali Muraj, a Pakistani operative with alleged ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards
- Al Mustafa International University, a Qom-based university and Islamic seminary
The Trump administration accused Ambassador Hasan Irlu of being a secret officer in the Qods Force, the elite expeditionary unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Iran allegedly is the only nation to have sent a diplomatic envoy to the Houthi rebels, who seized control of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in September 2014 but are not recognized as the legitimate government of Yemen. Tehran has reportedly armed, trained and funded the rebels.
Irlu allegedly coordinated with other senior Qods Force leaders, including the late commander Qassem Soleimani, to supply weapons and training to the Houthis, according to the Treasury Department. His presence in Yemen signaled the IRGC’s “intent to increase support to the Houthis and further complicate international efforts to reach a negotiated settlement to the conflict,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.
The administration also sanctioned Yousef al Muraj, a Pakistani national based in Iran, for helping the Qods Force “coordinate, plan and execute operations in the Middle East and United States.” Neither the Treasury nor the State Department provided additional details about his activities.
The administration also sanctioned al Mustafa International University, which it claimed was a center for militia recruitment by the IRGC. Qods Force operatives recruited Afghan and Pakistani students for the Fatemiyoun Division and the Zaynabiyoun brigades, two Shiite militias defending the Assad regime in Syria. Both militias were sanctioned by the Treasury Department in January 2019.
As of late 2020, al Mustafa International University and its affiliates had branches in 50 countries, including Afghanistan, Albania, Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, Indonesia, Lebanon and the United Kingdom. “The international community should be wary of Iranian influence, espionage, and terror operations facilitated by the regime’s educational infrastructure,” Pompeo said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on December 8
Today, the United States is designating Hasan Irlu, an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qods Force (IRGC-QF) officer Iran recently sent to Sana’a Yemen to serve as the group’s liaison to the Houthi Movement. The United States is also designating Al-Mustafa International University, an Iranian university with over 50 international branches which provide a platform for the IRGC-QF’s operations, and Yousef Ali Muraj, who has supported IRGC-QF recruitment operations in the Middle East and United States. We are designating these individuals and this entity pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13224, as amended.
The IRGC-QF is the Iranian regime’s primary tool to sow chaos and destruction across the Middle East. The United States will continue to take action against the IRGC-QF to disrupt its facilitation networks and cut off resources that support the terrorist group’s activities.
Iran’s support for the Houthis fuels the conflict in Yemen and exacerbates the country’s instability. By dispatching Irlu to Yemen, the IRGC-QF is signaling its intent to increase support to the Houthis and further complicate international efforts to reach a negotiated settlement to the conflict. The United States continues to support the efforts of UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths and Yemen’s neighbors to facilitate a ceasefire and political settlement. The people of Yemen deserve peace and stability. We are designating Irlu pursuant to E.O. 13224, as amended, for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the IRGC-QF.
Al-Mustafa International University is based in Iran and maintains dozens of international branches that facilitate IRGC-QF operations through the recruitment of international students, including Americans. The international community should be wary of Iranian influence, espionage, and terror operations facilitated by the regime’s educational infrastructure. The IRGC-QF has recruited Pakistani and Afghan students at Al-Mustafa International University to join the Zaynabiyoun Brigade and Fatemiyoun Division, two militias fighting on behalf of the IRGC-QF in Syria that were previously designated under counterterrorism and human rights authorities. We are designating Al-Mustafa International University pursuant to E.O. 13224, as amended, for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, IRGC-QF.
Also designated under today’s action is Yousef Ali Muraj, an Iran-based Pakistani national who has been involved in the IRGC-QF’s efforts to coordinate, plan, and execute operations in the Middle East and United States. We are designating Muraj pursuant to E.O. 13224, as amended, for having acted, or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the IRGC-QF.
The IRGC-QF takes advantage of every opportunity to advance its violent and destructive agenda, including by exploiting conflicts across the Middle East and coercing vulnerable individuals to fight on behalf of the Iranian regime. The United States will continue to use all available tools to expose and counter this malign behavior.
Department of the Treasury on December 8
Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is designating Hasan Irlu, an official in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) and the Iranian regime’s envoy to the Houthi rebels in Yemen, for acting for or on behalf of the IRGC-QF. Iranian support to the Houthis, spearheaded by the IRGC-QF, continues to foment instability in Yemen, the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. OFAC is also taking action against Iran’s Al-Mustafa International University for facilitating IRGC-QF recruitment efforts and one individual, Yusuf Ali Muraj, who supported the terrorist group’s operations. Al-Mustafa International University, which has branches around the world, is used as a recruitment platform by the IRGC-QF for intelligence collection and operations, including recruitment for the IRGC-QF-led foreign militias fighting on behalf of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime in Syria.
“The appointment of an IRGC-QF official as an envoy to the Houthi rebels in Yemen demonstrates the Iranian regime’s indifference to resolving the conflict, which has led to the widespread suffering of millions of Yemenis,” said Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. “Additionally, the IRGC-QF’s recruitment of foreign students for intelligence operations illustrates the degree to which the group has infiltrated Iranian society in order to achieve its destructive goals. These efforts, and the pervasive role the IRGC-QF plays in Iranian foreign policy, contribute to the erosion of trust in Iran’s public and private institutions.”
Today’s actions are being taken pursuant to the counterterrorism authority Executive Order (E.O.) 13224, as amended. The IRGC-QF was designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 in 2007 for support to numerous terrorist groups. The IRGC, including its external arm, the IRGC-QF, was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on April 8, 2019.
The Iranian regime recently sent Irlu to Sana’a as the Iranian regime’s envoy to the Houthi rebels. In so doing, Iran is the only nation to officially recognize, and appoint formal so-called representation to, the Houthis. For years, Irlu supported IRGC-QF efforts to provide advanced weapons and training to the Houthis. He coordinated with other senior IRGC-QF leaders to support the group’s operations throughout the Arabian Peninsula and Yemen. Irlu maintained a relationship with former IRGC-QF Commander Qasem Soleimani. He has also provided training to Hizballah members in Iran.
Irlu is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224, as amended, for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the IRGC-QF.
Today’s action follows the October 22, 2020 designation of Iraj Masjedi, currently a longtime senior IRGC-QF officer who also serves as Iran’s ambassador to Iraq and who for years oversaw the IRGC-QF’s Iraq policy.
AL-MUSTAFA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY AND YOUSEF ALI MURAJ
Iran-based Al-Mustafa International University, which claims branches in over 50 countries, enables IRGC-QF intelligence operations by allowing its student body, which includes large numbers of foreign and American students, to serve as an international recruitment network.
The IRGC-QF uses Al-Mustafa University to develop student exchanges with foreign universities for the purposes of indoctrinating and recruiting foreign sources. Al-Mustafa has facilitated unwitting tourists from western countries to come to Iran, from whom IRGC-QF members sought to collect intelligence.
Recruits from Al-Mustafa International University have been sent to Syria to fight on behalf of IRGC-QF-led militias. The IRGC-QF established the Fatemiyoun Division, an Iranian-led Shia militia composed of primarily ethnic Afghan residents in Iran, as well as the Zaynabiyoun Brigade, a militia group composed of Pakistani Shia, as expeditionary forces to fight in Syria. The IRGC-QF has used Al-Mustafa as cover for its recruitment of Afghans. The IRGC-QF has used Al-Mustafa’s campus in Qom, Iran as a recruitment ground for Pakistani students to join the Zaynabiyoun Brigades. Multiple students from the university have been killed fighting in Syria. The Fatemiyoun Division and Zaynabiyoun Brigade are both designated under counterterrorism and human rights authorities.
Al-Mustafa International University is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224, as amended, for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, the IRGC-QF.
OFAC is also designating Iran-based Pakistani national Yousef Ali Muraj, who has been involved in the IRGC-QF’s efforts to coordinate, plan and execute operations in the Middle East and United States. Yousef Ali Muraj is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224, as amended, for having acted, or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the IRGC-QF.
All property and interests in property of these persons designated today subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and U.S persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them. Any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by such persons are also blocked. In addition, foreign financial institutions that knowingly facilitate significant transactions for, or persons that provide material or certain other support to, the persons designated today risk exposure to sanctions that could sever their access to the U.S. financial system or block their property and interests in property under U.S. jurisdiction.