Three dozen web domains associated with a sanctioned Iranian disinformation organization and an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia have been seized by US authorities by court order, prosecutors announced on Tuesday evening.
The domains were used in violation of US sanctions, but prosecutors did not name the sites seized in the action. Thirty-three of the seized domains were used by the Islamic Radio and Television Union (IRTVU), an Iranian government agency sanctioned in October 2020, prosecutors said. Elements of the Iranian government, including the IRTVU, have targeted the United States with disinformation and malicious influence operations designed as news outlets, prosecutors said, citing the designation of sanctions.
Whose domains have been entered: Domains seized included PressTV websites, according to a review by Kharon and Al-Alam television, Iranian state media broadcasting in English and Arabic respectively. Other domains seized included Lua Lua TV, which broadcasts from UK; Palestine today, a branch of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) which produced a hit show for Ramadan this year; and al-Masirah television, a registered outlet in Lebanon controlled by the Houthis, the Iranian-backed rebel group in Yemen. All were members of the IRTVU as of October 2020, according to the union’s website, which has also been seized since.
Several media outlets, including PressTV, Al-Alam TV and al-Masirah TV, quickly came back online using new domains, some of which were registered in Iran, Reuters reported. Al-Masirah’s new website uses a US-based company to register its domain, records show.
The IRTVU was established in 2007 and supports media around the world with funding, content and training, Kharon reported in January 2019. Iranian disinformation organizations such as IRTVU share traits with other state-sponsored campaigns by amplifying content on networks, promoting material from connected journalists and organizing events, Kharon reported in February.
The Journalist Support Committee, a UK registered IRTVU partner, condemned the seizures in a statement posted on social media, calling them a “flagrant violation of media rights”. The media office of the Houthi movement in Yemen’s Hodeidah province has also expressed solidarity with a number of organizations whose domains have been seized.
IRTVU networks in Europe: Lua Lua TV, a Bahraini opposition channel that broadcasts from London, sheds light on IRTVU and its member networks in the West, discovered Kharon.
The station management included officials from IRTVU. And Yaser al-Sayegh, a British national who founded the outlet, is a former director of Shells for Media Production Limited, Licensee of Lua Lua TV, according to a profile of Ofcom, the UK broadcasting regulator. Shells for Media Production also provided satellite news gathering services to Lua Lua TV, as well as for the Iraqi members of IRTVU al-Ghadeer TV and Beladi Satellite Channel, according to the company’s social media posts.
Al-Sayegh also owns a majority stake and is Managing Director of Infomedia Plus Ltd., who signed a memorandum of understanding with the IRTVU-controlled media training center in March, records show.
Nabaa TV, a channel registered in Lebanon whose domain was seized on Tuesday, is owned and managed by Fuad Ibrahim, a Saudi opposition figure who was also a member of the IRTVU Information and Political Discourse Committee from 2018, according to the IRTVU website.
Input chain: Also on Tuesday, the United States seized three estates operated by Kata’ib Hezballah (KH), an Iraqi militia backed by Iran. sanctioned and designated by the United States as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) in 2009, prosecutors said. the head of KH was sanctioned last year.
The domains seized on Tuesday belong to an American company, and neither the IRTVU nor KH obtained a license before using them, prosecutors said. The American company has not been named.
The moves marked the latest in a series of domain seizures by the US government against Iranian-backed proxies. In March, the United States seized two more domains used by KH. Last year, US authorities seized the main domain of the group, as well as those associated with Aletejah TV, a media outlet controlled by KH, Kharon reported at the time. In October 2020, prosecutors announced the seizure of 92 domains they said had been used as part of a global disinformation campaign coordinated by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC); a month later, the United States seized 26 other domains associated with the same campaign, Kharon reported.
Harakat Al-Nujaba (HAN), another Iranian-backed Iraqi militia sanctioned by the United States, has seen his domains seized on several occasions. Another appears to have been dismantled on Tuesday, and the group condemned the action in a statement posted on social media.
“This step [the domain seizures] proves America’s fear of the good media, whose voice has begun to reach the entire world through the Internet and satellites to clarify the lies and disinformation of the repressive US regime, âthe statement said. “We recommend a boycott of US companies providing domains and those affected in Iraq to transfer those services to the Iraq (.iq) domain or to domains subject to fair laws of allied states.”
Analysts from the Counterterrorism / Middle East team contributed to this report.