Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday that it and Bahrain had added Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and senior officers from its Quds Force to their lists of people and organisations suspected of involvement in terrorism, Reuters reports.
Tehran quickly responded that the move was intended to “distract the world and the region from the killing of Jamal Khashoggi”, the journalist whose disappearance after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul has provoked international outrage.
The Saudi state news agency SPA quoted a statement from the security services as saying Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force, and the force’s Hamed Abdollahi and Abdul Reza Shahlai had been included on the terrorism list.
The US Treasury Department alleged in 2011 that Soleimani, Abdollahi and Shahlai were linked to a plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s former ambassador to the United States, Adel Al-Jubeir, and imposed sanctions on them.
Iran at the time dismissed the accusations as false and demanded an apology from Washington.
The Quds Force is the branch of the Revolutionary Guards that operate abroad.
“Saudi Arabia is in a quagmire it cannot easily come out of,” Iran’s Mehr news agency quoted Brigadier-General Esmail Kowsari, the Revolutionary Guards’ deputy security chief, as saying on Tuesday.
“Saudi rulers are trying to distract the world and the region from the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist, in their consulate in Turkey,” he added.
“They should know that this crime cannot be washed away easily or by these methods.”
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday dismissed Saudi Arabia’s explanations of Khashoggi’s death and demanded it punish those responsible, no matter how highly placed.
In Washington on Tuesday, the US Treasury targeted Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgency with sanctions against eight individuals who were designated global terrorists, including two linked to the Quds Force named as Mohammad Ebrahim Owhadi and Esma’il Razavi.
The Taliban-related sanctions were also imposed by the seven members of the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC), a US-Gulf initiative to stem finance to militant groups.
The centre was established in May 2017 during US President Donald Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia and the United States co-chair the group and Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are also members.
The Trump administration aims to create a security and political alliance with the Sunni Gulf Arab states to counter Shi’ite Iran’s influence in the region, especially in Syria and Iraq.
Trump withdrew in May from a nuclear deal with Iran that lifted most international sanctions on Tehran in exchange for curbs on its atomic programme.
Trump said the deal did not address Iran’s ballistic missile programme, its nuclear activities beyond 2025 or its role in regional conflicts.
Saudi Arabia welcomed Trump’s decision and said it would work with the United States to address Iran’s support of militant groups in the region and its ballistic missile programme, run by the Revolutionary Guards.