File photo of Swedish police at a knife attack site in Vetlanda, Sweden, March 3, 2021

Gangsters Beyond Borders Join Iran’s Malign Network

Sunday, 06/02/2024

The foreboding news, “Iran is using criminal networks in Sweden,” bespoke an association between the Islamic Republic and Swedish mobsters whose targets are Jewish and Israeli.

Iran summoned Sweden's charge d'affaires in Tehran on June 1 over "baseless and biased" accusations made by a Swedish official. Sweden's security service said two days earlier that the Iranian government had been using criminal networks within Sweden to carry out violent acts against other states, groups and individuals.

Reuters has been the only leading major Western media outlet to cover this bewildering news. To hear, however, that the Iranian regime is forging bonds with Swedish gangsters is no news to those who have sounded the alarm about a pattern of behavior that in the case of the Iranian government is decades long. The Islamic Republic has had a multi-pronged affair with global gangsters using them for arms trafficking (both conventional and unconventional grade weapons) as well as money laundering.

Tehran’s favorite yardstick of governance has been mobster-like thanks to the iron fist of the praetorian IRGC in confederation with the ruling clergy. The military-industrial complex and the security-intelligence apparatus, which are pillars of its rule, operate through a complex network of religious charities and rentiering economic networks.

Thanks to JCPOA and Obama administration’s less strict approach towards Tehran, its rulers have morphologically devolved the Middle East into a complex “nexus” of armed proxies that operates akin to a mafia racket. In this context, Trump’s “maximum pressure” sanctions on their own did not disrupt the Iranian regime’s “armed proxy” and “terror network” expansionism. With President Biden taking over the White House in 2021, the regime intensified its effort to consolidate its armed regional proxy network and expanded its terror network across the globe. However, since Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, Iran’s efforts to recruit gangsters has accelerated by leaps and bounds.

Iran and the World Crime Syndicate: A Not-So-Secret Affair

In 2015, Peruvian officials alerted US authorities about the expansion of the IRGC Quds force’s clandestine operations into Latin America, as they bonded with the region’s drug cartel to build a network across the region. By June 2022, the special commission of money laundering of the provincial government of British Columbia, the Cullen Commission, reported on the connections between Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah, the El Chapo drug cartel and their money laundering operations in British Columbia, Canada. Putting all the available reports together, it is likely that the triad of the Latin American drug cartels, the Lebanese Hezbollah, and the IRGC are working in tandem.

The advantages of such a collaboration are manifold for those involved. Such a network joins Latin America to North Africa and the Middle East, and also avails the partners in crime with the resources available through a global money laundering network powered by Crypto Currency. A further possible advantage could be to help one another eliminate competitors and/or enemies across the world.

The Iranian network with the global crime syndicates is not limited to Latin America, but stretches all the way to East Asia. In February 2024, the US indicted Takeshi Ebisawa, a Yakuza (Japanese Mafia) boss, for conspiring to transfer uranium and weapons-grade plutonium from Myanmar to Iran.

Recruiting Global Gangsters to Target Jews and Non-Jews

In view of the decade long collaboration between the Iranian authorities and the global crime syndicate, it was just a matter of time that Tehran would seek the services of domestic franchises as far as Sweden, Canada, and the United States to commit acts of terror on its behalf.

Starting from its founding in 1979, the Islamic government assassinated Iranian dissidents in Europe and North America in the 1980s and 1990s. A 2011 study by Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre details how the regime plotted and implemented these assassination plots. The report points out that it used a combination of hired-for-murder non-Iranian hitmen as well as Iranian agents who operated clandestinely under diplomatic cover for such missions.

After a lull in the early 2000s, Tehran renewed its overseas terror plot machinery as of 2010 with renewed vigor. In 2011, it sent two clandestine agents under cover as tourists to target Israeli diplomats in Bangkok. The Thai authorities arrested the to-be-assailants after the explosives that they had stored at their residence in Bangkok blew up the roof of the house. The Iranian agents were eventually convicted for plotting to assassinate Israeli diplomats in Thailand in 2013.

In 2018, two plots were folded by the Europeans. First, the European police, through the close collaboration of Belgian, Dutch, German and French police arrested(July 2018) and eventually convicted the IRGC Quds Force Operative-Cum-diplomat, Assadollah Assadi who sought to use his diplomatic cover to commit a bomb plot against the Iranian dissidents in Europe. Shortly thereafter, the Danish police arrested a Norwegian citizen of Iranian descent that plotted to kill an Iranian separatist leader in October 2018.

Unabated, the IRGC intelligence awakened a sleeper-cell that it had dispatched to Sweden three years earlier as refugees in the persons of an Iranian couple to implement a plot to murder Swedish Jews. However, the Swedish police arrested them in April 2021 before they could accomplish their mission.

This was followed by the shooting attack on a synagogue in Essen Germany in November 2022 (18 November). The Essen shooting attack marked a departure by the Iranian security-intelligence apparatus from using Iranian nationals. In fact, the planning and implementation of the Essen Synagogue attack debuts the recruitment of local gangster franchises to implement a terror plot designed, planned, and funded by Tehran.

It was not until March 2023 that it was reported that the Iranian agents used a German citizen of Iranian descent based in Tehran to launch an attack against the synagogue in Essen. It is noteworthy that there was another attempted attack on another synagogue in Bochum on 17 November 2022. At the time, German authorities speculated that the suspect in both attacks was the same person who had acted at the instigation of an Iran-German member of Hells Angels, Ramin Yektaparast. A former president of the Hells Angels chapter in Oberhausen, Yektaparast was the mastermind of the attacks against both synagogues in November 2022. At the time, Yektaparast had already absconded Germany for Iran a year or so earlier as he was a suspect in the “Rocker-Torso Murder”. Based on reports from Israel and Europe, Israeli intelligence finally “dispatched” Yektaparast in Iran in April 2024.

The ferocity of the Iranian plots against Jewish and Israeli citizens across the world reached such heights that by September 10, 2023 (almost a month before Hamas’ attack on Israel) David Barnea, Mossad’s Chief, publicly warned the Iranian regime that if it so persisted in planning and attempting to implement such terror plots, Israel was ready to attack Iran’s top officials in Tehran.

In late January 2024, news broke that the Iranian agents hired two members of the Canadian Hells Angels to commit assassinations inside the United States against Iranian American dissidents. After their successive failures in Europe in the previous years, the IRGC and their underworld friends were still intent upon striking terror in the heart of North America.

Damion Patrick Ryan (43), one of the two Canadian Hells Angels, as mentioned in the US indictment, however, was all too familiar for those who follow organized crime news in Canada. Originally, Ryan was a member of Vancouver biker gangs. He moved to Ottawa in 2010 where he joined the Hells Angels chapter there for a few years. He later moved to Greece and joined the Hells Angels chapter in Attica. It is not clear when and how, in Canada or Greece, he became acquainted with an Iranian international drug dealer, Naji Zindashti, that acted as middleman between him and the Iranian intelligence. The US Justice Department indictment establishes that between December 2020 and March 2021, the Canadian gangsters became part of a network run by Zindashti’s criminal drug trafficking organization at the behest of the Iranian security and intelligence apparatus.

Any astute observer would notice that the recruitment of the German and Canadian Hells Angels occurred within two years (2020-2021), indicative of a premeditated design. The latest episodes of recruiting local gangsters establish the systematic nature of such efforts. The first of such episodes was in March 2024, when Peruvian authorities arrested an alleged member of the IRGC’s Quds force, Majid Azizi, along with two Peruvian accomplices. According to the official reports, the trio intended to kill an Israeli businessman.

The most recent event completing the pattern of recruiting gangsters to conduct terror attacks particularly against Israeli targets came from the Swedish authorities, confirming that Tehran has Swedish crime syndicates in its employment. The Swedish statement further confirms Mossad’s alerts that the Iran actively seeks to implement terror plots against Israeli embassies in Europe.

Though Tehran’s doctrinal shift to use gangsters as opposed to undercover agents acting as diplomats, or pretending to be refugees, seems novel, it is highly flawed. States are traditionally far more likely to extradite (with or without mutual extradition treaties) organized crime members than they would in the case of assassins that operate under diplomatic cover. Furthermore, if the number of arrests and convictions of gangsters hired by a country to act as their terror plot agents starts to surge, this could mark a new era of enforcing the counter-terrorism UN convention in an unprecedented way. The only presumable advantage for gangsters to enter such Faustian deals can be to secure themselves a safe haven from an emerging counterterrorism à la counter-organized crime regime.

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