U.S. Sanctions Businesses Supporting Iranian Recruitment and Training of Child Soldiers

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A screengrab of a video clip urging children to enlist in the Syria war.
A screengrab of a video clip urging children to enlist in the Syria war.

U.S. Sanctions Businesses Supporting Iranian Recruitment and Training of Child Soldiers

On October 16, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control took action against a vast network of businesses providing a financial lifeline to the Basij Resistance Force (Basij), a paramilitary force subordinate to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).  Among other malign activities, this group recruits, trains, and deploys child soldiers to fight in IRGC-fueled conflicts across the region. These recruitment efforts include the training of Iranian children as fighters for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force, who then deploy to Syria to support the brutal Assad regime. And they include the recruitment of Afghan immigrants to Iran, including children as young as 14-years-old, to join the Fatemiyoun Brigade, a militia made up of Afghan fighters under the control of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force in Syria.    

The Iran-based network of businesses providing financial support to the Basij is known as Bonyad Taavon Basij, and is comprised of at least 20 corporations and financial institutions. This network employs shell companies and other measures to mask its 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.

“The Bonyad Taavon Basij network is a quintessential 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.  This vast network provides a financial lifeline to the Basij’s efforts to recruit, train, and indoctrinate child soldiers as young as twelve who are coerced into combat under the IRGC’s direction.”  

-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin

The IRGC and the Basij use the monies generated from this network to support terrorism along with committing a variety of human rights abuses at home and abroad. Today’s action targets the Basij and Bonyad Taavon Basij, adding these entities to a list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists, which already includes the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force and similar groups who provide support to terrorists or acts of terrorism.

This network has known business ties with international companies around the globe. The implications of partnering with companies associated with the Basij could contribute to the ongoing human rights abuses and terrorism they export to the region. Consequently, the U.S. Department of Treasury, today, urged international companies to ensure they are conducting the necessary due diligence to avoid engaging in sanctionable activity with entities that support the Iranian regime’s malign activity.  

As Treasury Secretary Mnuchin emphasized, “The international community must understand that business entanglements with the Bonyad Taavon Basij network and IRGC front companies have real world humanitarian consequences, and help fuel the Iranian regime’s violent ambitions across the Middle East.”

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