Federal agents arrested eight Iranian nationals at Baltimore-Washington International Airport late Thursday night on charges of attempting to smuggle three high powered rifles, sniper scopes and ammunition into a New York-bound plane.
Agents of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau, who had kept the group under surveillance for more than a week, intercepted the seven men and one woman just as one of the men was about to board TWA flight 900 to New York's Kennedy International Airport.
Agents also seized three suitcases the Iranians had checked onto the flight earlier and found three disassembled Winchester 30.06 rifles, matching scopes, 15 boxes of assorted ammunition and a street map of Washington, D.C., with "certain embassies marked," according to court documents.
The documents, affidavits filed by ATF agents in support of the arrest warrants in the case, did not specify which embassies were marked on the map or indicate why the map was in a New York-bound suitcase. Also, the affidavits said the Iranians had spoken of taking the rifles to Iran, but the airline ticket seized from the suspects at the Baltimore airport apparently was good only to New York.
Neither ATF officials nor U.S. Attorney Russell T. Baker Jr., in Baltimore would discuss details of the case.
The eight Iranians, who are all in their 20's and claim they attend Baltimore area colleges, were jailed Thursday night on bonds ranging from $25,000 to $250,000. Three were released late yesterday after posting $25,000 bonds each.
Detailed ATF affidavits gave an almost hour-by-hour account of efforts by the Iranians to purchase the weapons and ammunition from a suburban Baltimore gun shop whose owner tipped off ATF agents.
The agents monitored the Iranians' movements for several days. One agent, Dennis C. Jones, posed as a gun store clerk, helped negotiate the purchase of the weapons and even visited the apartment of one of the Iranians, according to the affidavits.
Jones said there were pictures in the apartment that the Iranians told him showed people who had been "tortured or killed by the shah" of Iran, according to the documents.
Agents said in the affidavits that two Iranians first approached S & S Gunshop owner Carl Stevens in suburban Randallstown on Nov. 6, and said they wanted to buy weapons to send to Iran.
Stevens notified ATF agents, and the Iranians were immediately placed under surveillance. Jones said in the affidavits that during the next several days, the Iranians discussed buying not only the three Winchester rifles and scopes, but also machine guns, pistols, a 12-gauge riot control shotgun and a "Heckler and Koch assualt rifle."
Ultimately, the Iranians purchased the three Winchesters, scopes and ammunition for more than $1,000 cash, according to the affidavits.
Jones said at one point he asked one of the Iranians, identified as Seyed Abrahim Mosavi, if he were going to use the rifles for hunting in Iran. "No," said Mosavi, according to the affidavits, "there (are) no longer any animals to hunt in Iran."
Thursday night when the eight Iranians went to Baltimore-Washington International Airport for the flight to New York, ATF agents arrested members of the group and charged each suspect with dealing in firearms without a license and placing firearms on an interstate commercial carrier without notifying the carrier. Each also was charged with conspiracy to commit these offenses.
In addition to Mosavi, the suspects were identified as Mohammad S. Tofighi, Shahla Ameli (wife of Tofighi), Abolghsaem Karaee, Bagher Moomeney, Sirous Salahvarzi, Mohammod Reza Bahadoritoolabi and Friedoon Rostami.