The IRGC was plotting to assassinate two Iran International television anchors in London in 2022 amid Iranian anti-government protests, UK’s ITV has revealed.
The plan was foiled because the man hired to do the job turned out to be a ‘double-agent’ working for a western intelligence agency. He would relay all information to his handler and has now shared some details with ITV.
Based on irrefutable evidence –seen and verified by ITV and multiple officials– the plot was commissioned and signed off by Mohammad Reza Ansari, the IRGC commander in charge of assassinations outside Iran.
Ansari is the ‘mastermind’ behind failed plots to assassinate former US officials Mike Pompeo and John Bolton –for which he’s been sanctioned by the US treasury. He is based in Syria and is reported to have links with the family of the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
According to ITV, Ansari hired and directed the hitman (Ismail) through another Assad associate, Mohammad Abd al-Razek Kanafani, requiring him first to use a car bomb and then a ‘quiet’ way to kill his targets: “simply stab [them] with a kitchen knife.”
The plot was cynically codenamed the “wedding”. The targets, Sima Sabet and Fardad Farahzad, were “bride” and “groom”. They did not know about the details of the plot until told by ITV during the making of the report.
Ismail, a people-smuggler turned IRGC operative and then double-agent, was promised $200,000, a new identity and safe passage to Iran via Syria.
This seems to have become the IRGC’s preferred method recently, using criminals rather than sympathizers or members of affiliated, non-Iranian militant groups, as was the case years back.
In November 2022, Volant Media, the parent company of Iran International, said that two of its journalists had been notified of direct threats. It said in a statement the Metropolitan Police had formally notified both journalists that these threats represented an imminent, credible and significant risk to their lives and those of their families. Following the significant escalation in Iranian state-backed threats and advice from the London Metropolitan Police, Iran International TV announced in February that it reluctantly and temporarily closed its London studios and moved broadcasting to Washington DC. After months of hiatus in broadcasting from the UK, the network relaunched operations from a new London building in September.
Since its inception, the Islamic Republic of Iran, has been engaged in such plots against Iranian opposition in exile. Some attempts have been more successful than the others, but the regime has never ceased threatening and targeting those who dare speak against it, even those ostensibly safe in western Europe or the United States.
Many Iranian activists believe that the failure of the host states to exact a high price for such atrocities have contributed to its continuation. Those arrested, even found guilty, have often been handed back to Iran in ‘exchanges’ –that, in turn, have been made possible through hostage-taking.
The most recent example is the release of Asadollah Assadi, a former attaché at the Iranian embassy in Austria, who was convicted in Belgium for plotting to bomb a gathering of Iranian opposition in France in 2018. He went back to Iran triumphantly in a deal to bring back Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele who was taken hostage in Iran in 2022 and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
According to ITV, the hitman (Ismail) was told the two presenters had to be targeted because they were causing the Iranian regime “a lot of humiliation in the media.”
“They accuse Iran of committing any kidnap or assassination [on television] and we must finish them and make an example of them… so anyone who will take their place in the channel will learn a lesson from what happened to them,” Iranian spies told Isamil.
The Iranian regime has been attacking Iran International ever since its launch in May 2017. It’s been called a “terrorist organization” and is deemed a “public enemy.”
In September 2023, Iran’s Intelligence Minister appeared on state television to reiterate that the regime would not refrain from “invasive security measures” against Iran International to show that “no terrorist media will be safe.”
“We believe that Iran International is a terrorist network, and naturally we deem it our duty and mission to act against them wherever and whenever we deem appropriate,” he said.
The ITV report Wednesday was broadcast only a few hours after the jury of a UK court returned a guilty verdict for a suspect gathering information on Iran International's London headquarters for a possible terror attack.
Chechnya-born Magomed-Husejn Dovtaev was detained by officers from London’s Metropolitan Police Counter-Terrorism Command in February 2023. He was charged with attempting to collect information "likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism."
The final verdict will be issued by the court on Friday.
“This trial was a reminder of the threats journalists and news organizations face,” Iran International said in a statement after the verdict was announced. “We will not be cowed by threats. Our journalists will continue to provide the independent, uncensored news the people of Iran deserve,”