Iran International's studios in London in 2022

Iran Uses 'Gangs' To Harm Journalists Abroad- Report

Monday, 04/08/2024

Recent attempts by Iran’s Islamic government against Iranian journalists abroad are raising further questions about the West’s Iran policy and measures to stop such threats.

Governments in the US, UK, and EU have long faced criticism for their unwillingness to confront an increasingly aggressive state that has is fast approaching the nuclear threshold and employs several proxies to cover its aggression in the Middle East.

Now, the "tentacles" of Iran’s terror network, as described in a recent Daily Mail exclusive, are stretching "across Western Europe," in what the paper calls "gangland hits."

The clerical-military rulers in Iran have two entities that plan such attacks, the ministry of intelligence and the Revolutionary Guard's (IRGC) intelligence organization. However, attempts to put the IRGC on Europe's and UK's terror lists have failed so far.

The report, detailing several recent Iranian plots overseas –including recent ones against Iran International and its journalists in London– suggests that this “terror campaign is being conducted with staggering impunity”, a direct result, perhaps, of the West’s confused, if not placating, approach to a state that has never hidden its intentions to intimidate or eliminate those it doesn’t like.

Dovtaev spying on Iran International's headquarters in London in 2023 seen of CCTV

“Last month, it emerged, for example, that Iran had sent agents to a range of countries using the cover of Afghan asylum seekers,” Daily Mail reports. “One such couple lived in Sweden as part of a 'sleeper cell' until 2021 when they were 'activated', apparently to assassinate three prominent Jews. Fortunately, they were arrested by security services before the hit could be carried out.”

This is in line with what seems to be Iran’s default procedure these days: to hire willing operatives or outright criminals of non-Iranian origin to do its dirty jobs overseas.

Last December, 31-year old Chechnya-born Magomed-Husejn Dovtaev was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in jail by a court in Britain for collecting information for terrorist purposes. He had been arrested in a Starbucks near Iran International premises earlier that year, having been spotted filming the broadcaster’s building in West London.

One or two days before that verdict was issued, the British broadcaster ITV revealed that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) had plotted to assassinate two Iran International TV anchors in 2022, amid the channel’s round-the-clock coverage of widespread protests against the regime in Iran.

That plot was foiled because the man hired to do the job turned out to be a ‘double-agent’ working for a western intelligence agency. His communications with his IRGC handler, which he’d relay to his other handler in a western intelligence agency, and he later shared with ITV, betrayed a ‘kill’ operation sordidly called the Wedding, with the two targeted anchors, Sima Sabet and Fardad Farahzad, codenamed the Bride and the Groom.

Iran International's former TV host Sima Sabet

Sabet and Farahzad escaped what could have been a tragic event, of which they knew very little until the ITV scoop. But their friend Pouria Zeraati, another Iran International anchor, was not so lucky.

Zeraati was stabbed right in front of his home in south London as he left for work. He survived the attack with leg injuries, perhaps because the attackers wanted to scare (not kill) him. They failed spectacularly if that was their intention. Zeraati returned to work right after he was discharged from hospital and presented his show a week later.

The Metropolitan Police has said that the three suspects involved in the incident fled the UK shortly after the attack, and that the ‘motive’ remains unclear. But the investigation is headed by the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command, due to a history of threats emanating from Iranian intelligence circles against Iran International journalists.

In the two years preceding the stabbing of Zeraati, Iran and its proxies had mounted at least 15 credible plots to kill dissidents or journalists on UK soil, according to Scotland Yard. Even more troubling, perhaps, is the suggestion by Daily Mail, that the MI5 has warned at least a dozen Iran International staff that the Islamic Republic’s Ministry of Intelligence may snatch them off the streets unless they quit.

Since its inception, the Islamic Republic of Iran, has been engaged in such plots against Iranian dissidents and journalists in exile. Not all attempts have been successful, 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 believe that the reluctance shown by American and European governments to exact a high price for Iran’s malign activities has contributed to its continuation. The culprits, even those found guilty, have often been handed back to Iran in ‘exchanges’ –made possible, in the first place, because the regime takes hostages where and when he can.

Many journalists (or dissidents) affected by Iran’s plots say their host nations (in the EU, UK or US) should do more, not just to arrest attackers or foil their plots, but to establish credible deterrence.

More News