Iran dissident calls for soccer match cancellation due to terrorism

Canada’s soccer team is slated to play Iran’s team in an exhibition match next month in Vancouver. The match has sparked widespread calls for it to be canceled.

Premier League soccer ball, illustrative (photo credit: PIXABAY/KEVINSTUTTARD)
Premier League soccer ball, illustrative

The prominent Iranian dissident and journalist Masih Alinejad said on Saturday that she told the FBI about a link between Iran’s soccer team and the plot to kidnap her in Brooklyn, prompting her to call on the Canadian government to pull the plug on a soccer match with Tehran’s team in June.

“I informed the FBI about the connection between the Iran’s football team and the man who is wanted for a plot to kidnap me & Canadian citizens. Now they are looking into it. We call on Canadian government to #CanceledTheGame & don’t give visa to those associated with kidnappers,” wrote Alinejad on Twitter.

Canada’s soccer team is slated to play Iran’s team in an exhibition match next month in Vancouver. The match has sparked widespread calls for it to be canceled.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reported on Saturday “Photos online show head of Iran’s soccer team with man wanted for kidnapping plot involving people in Canada.”

The CBC wrote that “The head of the Iranian national soccer team coming to Vancouver next month for a controversial exhibition game recently attended a party with a man wanted by the FBI in relation to a plot to kidnap international targets, including three people in Canada.”

According to the CBC, “The April 8 birthday party in Tehran was captured on camera and photographs were posted online. At the time, a warrant had been out for the arrest of the alleged Iranian intelligence informant for almost a year.

Team manager Hamid Estili appears in the photos with Mahmoud Khazein. Khazein is facing criminal charges in the US which include conspiracy to kidnap, conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.”

CBC continued that “Court documents describe Khazein as having been an Iranian intelligence asset since at least 2014. He was appointed to a role in the Basij, a volunteer auxiliary division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, around 1999, the court records allege.”

Khazein was allegedly one of four alleged members of an Iranian intelligence network charged in July 2021 in Manhattan over what authorities said were attempts to lure Alinejad, three individuals from Canada and a fifth person in the United Kingdom to Iran. Victims in the United Arab Emirates were also targeted, according to the indictment,” reported CBC.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau opposes the football match. Canada does not have diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. The United States government classified Iran’s regime as the world’s worst state-sponsor of terrorism.

The Jerusalem Post reported in February that the US state department barred the head of Iran’s national wrestling federation, Alireza Dabir, who called for  “Death to America” with violence, from entering America for a slated dual meet between the US and Iranian national wrestling teams in February in Arlington, Texas. Iran's wrestling team canceled the wrestling dual meet.

The CBC said the FBI and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police declined to comment. "Many sports clubs in Iran have been taken over, directly or indirectly, by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) due to their rising popularity and profitability, according to experts and several media reports," wrote CBC. The US designated the IRGC a foreign terrorist entity.

The CBC said "The [football] game is going ahead over the objections of the families of those who died aboard Flight PS752 when it was shot down on January 8, 2020 over Tehran. Those families say they have been repeatedly harassed, intimidated and threatened by proxies of the IRGC."

The blame was pinned on the IRGC for launching missiles at the Ukrainian passenger plane, killing all passengers aboard.