Intensifying its pressure on Iran, the US imposed sanctions on Tuesday on a multibillion-dollar financial network that supports an Iranian paramilitary force, alleging it recruits and trains child soldiers for the country’s elite Revolutionary Guards.
The announcement came two weeks before the Trump administration reimposes some of the United States’ harshest sanctions against Iran, including its oil sector.
Announcing sanctions against Basij Resistance Force, the US Department of Treasury alleged that the paramilitary force subordinate to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) indulges in militia recruits, trains, and deploys child soldiers to fight in IRGC-fueled conflicts across the region.
“This Iran-based network is known as Bonyad Taavon Basij, which is translated as Basij Cooperative Foundation, and is comprised of at least 20 corporations and financial institutions,” the Treasury said.
Bonyad Taavon Basij employs shell companies and other measures to mask Basij ownership and control over a variety of multibillion-dollar business interests in Iran’s automotive, mining, metals, and banking industries, many of which have significant international dealings across the Middle East and with Europe, it said.
“The Bonyad Taavon Basij network is an example of how the IRGC and Iranian military forces have expanded their economic involvement in major industries, and infiltrated seemingly legitimate businesses to fund terrorism and other malign activities,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.
This vast network provides financial infrastructure to the Basij’s efforts to recruit, train, and indoctrinate child soldiers who are coerced into combat under the IRGC’s direction, he alleged.
“The international community must understand that business entanglements with the Bonyad Taavon Basij network and IRGC front companies have real world humanitarian consequences. This helps fuel the Iranian regime’s violent ambitions across the Middle East,” Mnuchin said.
The press release issued by the Treasury included a number of pictures of child soldiers with weapons. In one picture found on the website one can see pictures of Presidents Obama, Bush and others that are part of a compilation of pictures where these children are doing target practice.
“The Basij recruit and train fighters for the IRGC Quds Force, who then deploy them to Syria to support the brutal Assad regime. They also recruit Afghan immigrants to Iran, again including children, to join their militias. Children recruited by the Basij have tragically fought and died in battlegrounds in Syria,” a senior administration official told reporters during a conference call.
In addition to Basij, the US designated an extensive network in Iran that provides the financial infrastructure to the Basij, supporting not only the IRGC and its Quds Force, but also by extension providing support to their efforts to coerce child soldiers into combat under the IRGC’s direction.