DUBAI: American authorities seized a range of Iran's state-linked news website domains they accused of spreading "disinformation" on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila), a US official said, a move that appeared to be a far-reaching crackdown on Iranian media amid heightened tensions between the two countries.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case had not yet been officially announced by the American government, said the United States had effectively taken down roughly three dozen websites, the majority linked to Iranian disinformation efforts.
Iranian state-run news agency IRNA announced the US government seizures without providing further information.
The takedowns come as world powers scramble to resurrect Tehran's tattered 2015 nuclear deal and just days after the election victory of Iran's hard-line judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi. On Monday, Raisi, known for his hostility to the West, staked out a hard-line position in his first news conference.
He ruled out the possibilities of meeting with President Joe Biden or negotiating over Tehran's ballistic missile program and support for regional militias - concerns the Biden administration wants to be addressed in future talks.
Relations between Iran and the United States have deteriorated for years following then-president Donald Trump's withdrawal from Tehran's nuclear deal and return of devastating sanctions on the country.
That decision has seen Iran, over time, gradually abandon every limit on uranium enrichment. The country is now enriching uranium to 60 percent, its highest level ever, though still short of weapons-grade levels.
Iran provides support to militant groups in the region, such as Lebanon's militant Hezbollah and Yemen's Houthi rebels, as it seeks to wield its influence far afield and counter its foes.
On Tuesday, visiting the addresses of a handful of sites, including Iran state television's English-language arm Press TV, Yemeni Houthi-run Al-Masirah satellite news channel and Iranian state TV's Arabic-language channel, Al-Alam, produced a federal takedown notice.
It said the websites were seized "as part of law enforcement action" by the US Bureau of Industry and Security, Office of Export Enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The US government also took over the domain name of the news website Palestine Today, which reflects the viewpoints of Gaza-based Islamic militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, redirecting the site to the same takedown notice.
Press TV, launched in June 2007, is the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting's English-language service. Its Iran-based website, PressTV.ir, was not affected.
Most of the domains seized appeared to be ".net," ".com" and ".tv" domains. The first two are generic top-level domains as opposed to country-specific domains while ".tv" is owned by the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu but administered by the US company Verisign.
Seizing a domain on a major country-specific top-level domain such as Iran's ".ir" would be apt to produce widespread international condemnation as a violation of sovereignty.