WASHINGTON - The US Treasury Department on Tuesday slapped sanctions on an Iranian paramilitary group along with a network of businesses that were providing it financing, as part of Washington´s campaign of maximum economic pressure against Tehran.
In announcing the sanctions, Treasury said a network of more than 20 businesses known as the Bonyad Taavon Basij was financing the Basij Resistance Force, a component of Iran´s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
It also accused the militia of sending child soldiers to Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad´s regime.
"The international community must understand that business entanglements with the Bonyad Taavon Basij network and IRGC front companies have real world humanitarian consequences," said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
The Basij, a paramilitary force formed soon after the 1979 revolution, is one of the Iranian regime´s primary enforcers of internal security with branches in every province and city of Iran , according to the US Treasury.
"In addition to its involvement in violent crackdowns and serious human rights abuses in Iran , the Basij recruits and trains fighters ... including Iranian children, who then deploy to Syria to support the brutal Assad regime," it said.
It added that in addition to Iranians, the militia recruited Afghan immigrants to Iran through coercion, some of whom had fled to Europe as a result, as well as Pakistani nationals.
"Children recruited by Basij have tragically fought and died on the battleground in Syria," a senior administration official told AFP.
The Bonyad Taavon Basij is said to provide the Basij militia social welfare services, including housing and financial support, and manages economic activities by funding small companies.
"Bonyad Taavon Basij has expanded its reach into Iran´s economy by establishing several investment firms through its financial and investment offshoot Mehr Eqtesad Bank," the Treasury statement said.
Among the other companies singled out was Iran Tractor Manufacturing Company (ITMC), the largest tractor manufacturer in the Middle East and North Africa which predates the Iranian revolution, that generates millions of dollars in profit for the investment firms that represent the Basij.
Also targeted was Iran´s Zinc Mines Development Company, described as the country´s "preeminent, multibillion-dollar zinc and lead mining and processing holding company." - APP/AFP