American authorities seized a range of Iran's state-linked news website domains they accused of spreading disinformation, the US Justice Department said Tuesday, a move that appeared to be a far-reaching crackdown on Iranian media amid heightened tensions between the two countries. The Justice Department said 33 of the seized websites were used by the Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union, which was singled out by the US government last October for what officials described as efforts to spread disinformation and sow discord among American voters ahead of the 2020 presidential election, per the AP. The US says three other seized websites were operated by the Iraqi Shiite paramilitary group Kata'ib Hizballah, which more than a decade ago was designated a foreign terrorist organization.
The US also took over the domain name of the Palestine Today site, which reflects the viewpoints of Gaza-based Islamic militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The website domains are owned by US companies, but despite sanctions, neither the IRTVU nor KH obtained the required licenses from the US government before using them. Most of the domains seized appeared to be ".net," ".com," and ".tv" domains; ".tv" is owned by the Pacific nation of Tuvalu but administered by the US company Verisign. It's not the first time the US has seized domain names of sites it accuses of spreading disinformation. Last fall, the DOJ announced the takedown of nearly 100 websites linked to Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard, saying the sites were waging a "global disinformation campaign" to influence US policy and push Iranian propaganda worldwide. (Read more Iran stories.)