World

U.S. levies sanctions on Arab channel

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

The Bush administration Wednesday imposed financial sanctions on a satellite television operation in Syria that has outraged U.S. officials with broadcasts of attacks on Americans troops and calls to violence.

The administration also imposed sanctions on the Iraqi businessman who owns the station, along with a top general in Iran's Revolutionary Guard and two men accused of directing terrorist attacks.

All were accused of committing or promoting violence in Iraq. The sanctions freeze any U.S. assets that the station or individuals may have, and make it illegal for Americans or U.S. entities to do business with them.

Al Zawraa television, called "Muj TV," short for mujahedin, by some Westerners, has been a source of frustration for U.S. officials since 2005 as it has beamed bloody video of attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq across the region. One program, called "Hidden Camera Jihad," showed clips of attacks along with laugh tracks, sound effects and mocking captions in English.

The station became an irritant to U.S.-Saudi relations because the Saudi-controlled Arabsat satellite operator was carrying its signal, despite entreaties from American officials. Saudi officials believed it represented a point of view that they had to tolerate, U.S. officials said.

The station was founded by Mishaan Jaburi, a former lawmaker who fled to Syria in 2006 amid charges that he had stolen millions from the Iraqi government. In a statement, U.S. Treasury Department officials alleged that the station has received money from the group Al Qaeda in Iraq and that it has aired coded messages to the Islamic Army in Iraq, another Sunni insurgent group.

U.S. officials said they did not know whether the station was still on the air. The monitoring service of the BBC, which follows broadcasts from 150 countries, said the station was last seen July 27. Arabsat's website no longer lists Al Zawraa among the channels it carries.

Lawrence Pintak, director of the Adham Center for Electronic Journalism at American University in Cairo, said an Arabic-language website with a similar name may be run by Al Zawraa.

Opinions vary on the sanctions' effect.

Matthew Levitt, a former Treasury Department official now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said such sanctions can make companies reluctant to buy advertising on targeted media outlets. It also could hurt Jaburi's financial interests by making some potential business contacts unwilling to deal with him for fear of losing American clients, he said.

Pintak, however, said he believed sanctions were "at best, symbolic." He said the station was not carrying ads for Coke or "buying reruns of 'Friends,' " and was probably financed by the same sources as the insurgency.

The fact that Jaburi set up his business in Syria, a country with limited contacts with the U.S. government, suggests he was prepared for American pressure, Pintak said.

The sanctions also targeted Iranian Brig. Gen. Ahmed Foruzandeh, a leader of the Quds Force, a special unit of the Revolutionary Guard. U.S. officials said the unit is the primary means by which Iran allegedly cultivates ties with terrorists and Islamic militants. U.S. officials said Foruzandeh and his associates promoted attacks on U.S. and Iraqi troops in Iraq.

In October, Treasury and State Department officials designated the Revolutionary Guard as a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction, and the Quds Force as a supporter of terrorism.

The sanctions announced Wednesday also included two Iraqis, Abu Mustafa Shebeini, and Ismail Hafiz Lami, who were accused of directing terrorist attacks in Iraq.

paul.richter@latimes.com

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