Archive for November 26, 2020

Thailand to release 3 Iranians suspected of trying to target Israeli diplomats

November 26, 2020

Thai officials refrain from calling move a prisoner swap despite fact men were cut loose after Australian woman held in Iran was freed

In this frame grab from Iranian state television video aired Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert, is seen in Tehran, Iran. (Iranian State Television via AP)

By TASSANEE VEJPONGSA and NICK PERRYToday, 10:57 amUpdated at 12:17 pm  1In this frame grab from Iranian state television video aired Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert, is seen in Tehran, Iran. (Iranian State Television via AP)

BANGKOK (AP) — Thai officials said Thursday they approved the transfer back to Tehran of three Iranians who were allegedly involved in a botched 2012 bomb plot against Israeli diplomats, as Iran released a 33-year-old Australian academic who was imprisoned for more than two years on spying charges.

Thai officials did not go so far as to call it a prisoner swap or say what involvement Australia might have had in the arrangement. Iranian state TV said Tehran released British-Australian Kylie Moore-Gilbert in exchange for three Iranians held abroad.

Chatchom Akapin, Thailand’s deputy attorney general, told The Associated Press that Thai authorities had approved the transfer of the prisoners under an agreement with Iran.

“These types of transfers aren’t unusual,” he said. “We transfer prisoners to other countries and at the same time receive Thais back under this type of agreement all the time.”In this frame grab from Iranian state television video aired Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert is seen in Tehran, Iran. (Iranian State Television via AP)

In Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was “thrilled and relieved” that Moore-Gilbert had been released but added it would take time for her to process her “horrible” ordeal.

Flight data obtained by the AP showed the plane filmed on the tarmac at the Tehran airport had this week twice flown from Bangkok to Tehran, and then on to Doha, Qatar.

The plane’s tail number links it to an Australian private air carrier called Skytraders, which describes itself as a “principal provider of air services to government.” An employee at the company declined to comment when reached by the AP.

The bomb plot of the three Iranians was exposed in 2012 when an accidental explosion blew apart the Bangkok villa where they were staying. Israeli and Thai officials have said the plot was aimed at Israeli diplomats in Bangkok — though Iran denied the allegations and the men were never charged with terrorism.

Two of the men, Saeid Moradi and Mohammad Kharzei, were convicted in Thailand in 2013. Moradi was sentenced to life for attempting to murder a police officer, while Kharzei was sentenced to 15 years for possessing explosives.

Moradi, a factory technician from Tehran and a former soldier, lost parts of both legs as he tried to flee the villa on a crowded Bangkok street. He was carrying explosives from the house and dropped them in the street as police tried to stop him.In this Dec. 21, 2012 photo, Saeid Moradi, an Iranian suspect bomber, on a wheelchair is helped by a Thai prisoner to arrive for his trial hearing at criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

The third suspect, Masoud Sedaghatzadeh, was detained in Malaysia. In 2017, a federal court there ordered his extradition to Thailand.

Israeli officials on Thursday had no immediate comment on the release of the Iranians.

Iran’s report of the prisoner swap was scant on detail, saying only that the Iranians had been imprisoned for trying to bypass sanctions on Iran.

Morrison said he had spoken with Moore-Gilbert on Thursday.

“The tone of her voice was very uplifting, particularly given what she has been through,” Morrison told Australia’s Network Nine.

Asked about the swap, Morrison said he “wouldn’t go into those details, confirm them one way or the other” but said he could assure Australians there had been nothing done to prejudice their safety and no prisoners were released in Australia.

In a statement, Moore-Gilbert thanked Australia’s government and diplomats for securing her release, as well as supporters who campaigned for her freedom.

Despite her ordeal, Moore-Gilbert said she had “nothing but respect, love and admiration for the great nation of Iran and its warm-hearted, generous and brave people.”

Moore-Gilbert was a Melbourne University lecturer on Middle Eastern studies when she was picked up at the Tehran airport as she tried to leave the country after attending an academic conference in 2018. She was sent to Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, convicted of spying and sentenced to 10 years. She had vehemently denied the charges and maintained her innocence.

She was one of several Westerners held in Iran on widely criticized espionage charges that activists and UN investigators believe is a systematic effort to leverage their imprisonment for money or influence in negotiations with the West. Tehran denies it. Moore-Gilbert wrote in letters to Morrison that she had been imprisoned “to extort” the Australian government.

Her detention had strained relations between Iran and the West at a time of already escalating tensions, which reached a fever pitch earlier this year following the American killing of a top Iranian general in Baghdad and retaliatory Iranian strikes on a US military base.

Iran state TV aired footage showing her clad in a gray hijab sitting at what appeared to be a greeting room at Mehrabad International Airport in Tehran. She was later seen getting on an Australian-flagged white aircraft, shown to her seat by a man in a suit.

In this Feb. 20, 2012 photo, an Iranian bomb suspect Mohammad Kharzei, right, listens to a Thai police officer as he is taken to verify the house where he and other Iranian compatriots rented in Bangkok, Thailand.  (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit, File)

The TV report did not elaborate on the Iranians it described as “economic activists” freed in exchange for Moore-Gilbert. They wore Iranian flags draped over their shoulders, black baseball caps pulled down over their eyes and surgical masks, outfits apparently designed to conceal their identities. Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, welcomed the three Iranians at the airport.

International pressure has been building on Iran to release Moore-Gilbert. She has gone on repeated hunger strikes and her health has deteriorated during long stretches in solitary confinement. Over the summer, she was transferred to the remote Qarchak Prison, east of Tehran, as fears escalated over the spread of the coronavirus in the country’s notoriously crowded prisons.

Moore-Gilbert had appealed to the Australian government to work harder for her release. In her letters to the prime minister, she wrote that she had been subjected to “grievous violations” of her rights, including psychological torture.

F-35A stealth fighter drops mock nuclear bomb in flight test

November 26, 2020

An F-35A Lightning II fighter dropping a B61-12 mock nuclear bomb

An F-35A Lightning II fighter dropping a B61-12 mock nuclear bombSandia National LaboratoriesVIEW 1 IMAGES

Two major US defense initiatives recently came together as a US Air Force F-35A Lightning II dropped a mock refurbished B61-12 nuclear bomb for the first time. The test, which took place over Sandia National Laboratories’ Tonopah Test Range in Nevada on August 25, saw the 5th-generation fighter release the bomb from an internal bay while flying at supersonic speed.

The F-35 has been garnering a lot of attention as it moves to full deployment after almost two decades of development. Its well-known qualities of stealth, advanced sensors, supersonic speed, and network-ability make it as much a command center as a fighter plane, but it is still first and foremost a weapon system designed to deliver ordnance on target.

The recent flight test mated the F-35 with a lesser known US weapons program, the B61-12 air-launched gravity nuclear bomb. Weighing in at 825 lb (374 kg) and with an explosive yield of between 0.3 and 50 kilotons, it’s the latest variant of the B61 family of bombs that was fielded in 1968. Since then, it has flown on the B-2A bomber, F-15 and F-16 fighters, and the Panavia Tornado.

However, the US stockpile of these nuclear bombs is aging and Sandia has been tasked with helping to extend their service life by 20 years while making them more secure and more reliable. Sandia provides non-nuclear component development and acts as technical integrator for the complete weapon to make sure it works on the intended platforms.

The life extension program includes 400 of the B61-12 bombs and involves refurbishment of parts, replacing fuses and batteries that are suffering from old age, adapting the bomb to new aircraft, and general technical upgrades.

Sandia says mock refurbished B61-12s have already flown on an F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet in March and a B-2 Spirit bomber in July. What made the F-35A test different is that not only was the aircraft equipped with a nuclear weapon system, but it is the first time that such a bomb was carried in an internal bay on a fighter jet. Normally, the bomb is carried on the outside mounted on a hard point, but the F-35 can carry the bomb or other weapons on the inside to maintain stealth, as well as drop them while flying supersonic.

The flight demonstration was conducted in partnership with the National Nuclear Security Administration, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the US Air Force.

“This was the first test to exercise all systems, including mechanical, electrical, communication and release between the B61-12 and the F-35A,” says Steven Samuels, a manager with Sandia’s B61-12 Systems Team. “The latest test is a critical piece in the F-35A and B61-12 program Aboard the newest fighter, the B61-12 provides a strong piece of the overall nuclear deterrence strategy for our country and our allies.”

The video below shows the B-61-12/F35A flight test.