US slaps new sanctions on Hezbollah as protests return to Iran’s Kazeroun

Fresh financial impositions are targeting a major financier and a cousin of Hezbollah’s leader

Women cross a street near a giant political mural depicting Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, left, and Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic republic of Iran, in Tehran, Iran, on Wednesday, May 9, 2018. U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the 2015 deal that put limits on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for rapprochement with the West. Photographer: Ali Mohammadi/Bloomberg

For the third time in less than a week, the Trump administration has imposed sanctions on the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, as protests and clashes heated up in Kazeroun, in the southwest of Iran.

The US Treasury announced new sanctions on Thursday targeting Hezbollah financiers, including two individuals and five companies. The individuals are Mohammad Ibrahim Bazzi, who is accused of assisting in, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological, financial or other services to or in support of Hezbollah; and Abdallah Safi Al Din, who was identified as Hezbollah’s representative to Iran and allegedly acts as a conduit between the two.

Mr Bazzi, the statement said, “operates or transacts in or through Belgium, Lebanon, Iraq, and several countries in West Africa, [and] is a key Hezbollah financier ... [he] has provided millions of dollars to Hezbollah generated from his business activities.”

The US accused Mr Bazzi of illicit activities including drug dealing through his companies. Mr Al Din is said to be a cousin of Hezbollah’s secretary general Hassan Nasrallah, and worked “to resolve a dispute between Iran and The Gambia [which would] re-establish a political relationship between the two countries.”

The companies targeted are owned or controlled by Mr Bazzi. They are: Global Trading Group NV, headquartered in Antwerp, Belgium, that also has locations in Sierra Leone, The Gambia, Ivory Coast, and Benin; Euro African Group LTD located in Banjul, The Gambia; Africa Middle East Investment Holding SAL, which is located in Beirut; Premier Investment Group, which is also located in Lebanon’s capital. The last company targeted was Car Escort Services.

“This action highlights the duplicity and disgraceful conduct of Hezbollah and its Iranian backers.  Despite Nasrallah’s claims, Hezballah uses financiers like Bazzi who are tied to drug dealers, and who launder money to fund terrorism,” said US Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin.

The sanctions on the Iranian-funded party came as new reports emerged of violent protests in Kazeroun, which reported left at least one dead and many injured. In the last 48 hours, videos of protestors in the city that had been facing drought and hard economic conditions emerged on Twitter. Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency reported on Thursday that a violent protest in the city of Kazeroun “has left at least one person dead and six others injured.”

Video on social media showed protests on Wednesday night:

BBC Persian carried this video of protests today in Kazeroun:

While other users tweeted on the aftermath of the clashes:

Protests that started intermittently last December are coming at a time of worsening economic conditions for Iran.

The national currency continues its slippery slide while living costs go up, and the country is bracing for more US sanctions in the aftermath of the Trump administration's withdrawal from the nuclear deal.