Iran’s foreign ministry Thursday rejected US and UK accusations about an Iran-linked cyberattack against Albania, which cut diplomatic relations on Wednesday.
Albanian counter-terrorism police searched the empty Iranian embassy in Tirana on Thursday, hours after Iranian diplomats burned papers inside the premises following the severing of diplomatic ties over a cyberattack.
“The US and the UK that had previously remained silent in numerous cyberattacks against the Islamic Republic of Iran’s infrastructures, and even against its nuclear facilities, and had directly or indirectly supported those measures, lack any legitimacy to level such accusations against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” spokesman Nasser Kanaani said in a statement.
Kanaani also warned against “any political adventurism against Iran with such ridiculous excuses” and expressed Iran’s “complete readiness to deal with any possible conspiracy decisively and immediately that would make them feel regretful.”
Albania severed its relations with Iran on Wednesday and ordered all Iranian diplomats and embassy staff to leave the country within 24 hours.
"The government has decided with immediate effect to end diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran," Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said in a rare video address on Wednesday following an investigation into an alleged Iranian cyberattack in July which temporarily shut down numerous Albanian government digital services and websites.
"This extreme response...is fully proportionate to the gravity and risk of the cyberattack that threatened to paralyze public services, erase digital systems and hack into state records, steal government intranet electronic communication and stir chaos and insecurity in the country," he said.
The White House National Security Council hours later strongly condemned the cyberattack against its NATO ally Albania in a statement, saying it will “take further action to hold Iran accountable for actions that threaten the security of a US ally and set a troubling precedent for cyberspace.”
The new UK Foreign Minister James Cleverly also said in a statement Wednesday that “Iran’s reckless actions showed a blatant disregard for the Albanian people, severely restricting their ability to access essential public services,” adding that the UK joinsAlbania and other allies in “exposing Iran’s unacceptable actions.”
US Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee also condemned Iran’s alleged cyberattack against Albania. “Iran must be held accountable for its malicious attacks, and I support Albania's decision to sever diplomatic ties. The US will continue to support Albania,” Risch tweeted Wednesday evening.
The alleged attack took place during a conference of the exiled Iranian Albania-based opposition group Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK) in mid-July.
In an August 5 report, US cybersecurity firm Mandiant expressed “moderate confidence” the attackers were acting in support of Tehran’s efforts to disrupt the MEK conference, which had to be cancelled as well due to a terror threat.
The Mandiant report said several factors indicated that the attack had been carried out by pro-Iran hackers, including the timing, the content of a social media channel used to claim responsibility, and similarities in software code used with malware long used to target Farsi and Arabic speakers.
After Saddam’s fall in 2003, MEK members stationed in Iraq were moved to Camp Ashraf north of Baghdad, which had been established in 1986 during the Iran-Iraq war. In 2016, the MEK was transferred by the US to a new compound in Albania, where it is active on social media.
In July, Iran's Foreign Ministry sanctioned a group of US officials and lawmakers over their alleged support for the MEK group, that Tehran considers a terrorist organization.