Iran’s intelligence services are increasingly targeting Iranians abroad, ramping up threats against journalists and dissidents as they struggle to contain a popular uprising at home, analysts and Western officials say.
In Britain, police recently warned of an increase in “credible” threats by Iranian security forces against two British-Iranian journalists and their families, sending additional security to their homes and offices. The campaign comes as Britain’s domestic spy service said that it found at least 10 “potential threats” to “kidnap or even kill British or U.K.-based individuals perceived as enemies” of Iran’s government this year.
Iranian intelligence agencies “are prepared to take reckless action” to attack opponents in Western countries or to try to lure them back to Iran, the head of MI5, Ken McCallum, said in remarks Wednesday.
The threats are rising against a backdrop of widespread unrest inside Iran, an uprising sparked by the brutal death of a young woman, Mahsa Amini, in police custody in September. Authorities have responded with a far-reaching crackdown, beating, firing on, and arresting protesters, and sentencing at least five demonstrators to death this week.
Targeting Iranians abroad “is a pattern of behavior that is escalating in the context of this uprising,” said Sanam Vakil, deputy director of the Middle East North Africa program at the London-based Chatham House think tank.
“It really speaks to the state’s perception that the Iranians abroad are really stoking dissent. … They feel that if they can silence or send strong messages to this diaspora that it can reverberate” domestically, she said.
Some of Iran’s main targets have been journalists who work for Persian-language media such as BBC Persian and Iran International, the latter of which has come under criticism for its reported ties to Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival. Iranian officials have accused both outlets, which are based in the United Kingdom, of inciting riots and “supporting terrorism.”
Iran International’s parent company, Volant Media, denounced in a Nov. 7 statement the “escalation of a state-sponsored campaign to intimidate Iranian journalists working abroad.”
The news director of Iran International, Mehdi Parpanchi, said in an interview Wednesday that media affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, its most powerful security organization, have threatened the station before — but never this seriously.
Police told Parpanchi that the outlet’s office in London was being surveilled, as were the homes of two employees. They declined to provide more specific details, Parpanchi said.
Britain’s foreign minister on Nov. 11 also summoned Iran’s chargé d’affaires in London “to make clear that we do not tolerate threats to life and intimidation of any kind toward journalists, or any individual, living in the U.K.”
In other incidents, anti-government protests held in front of Iranian embassies have been attacked.
In Berlin, three people were injured Oct. 30 when three men with their faces covered targeted a group with banners reading “Iranians want democracy” and “Woman, life, freedom,” the Associated Press reported. In late September, police in London and Paris clashed with protesters trying to reach the Iranian embassies during rallies in support of the uprising.
In recent weeks, Iranian athletes also have used international sporting events as platforms for protest — raising fears about their safety after returning to Iran. Authorities are concerned about protests or displays of solidarity during the upcoming World Cup soccer competitions in Qatar.
The Islamic Republic also has a long history of trying to kidnap or kill its citizens abroad. Members of opposition parties and minority groups, such as Iranian Arabs and Kurds, have been frequent targets.
In July 2021, U.S. federal prosecutors charged four Iranian agents with plotting to kidnap New York-based journalist and activist Masih Alinejad.
In another shocking case, Iran lured France-based dissident Ruhollah Zam, who founded a popular Telegram channel, back to the country in 2019. He was executed the following year.
In Istanbul in 2017, masked assailants gunned down Saeed Karimian, the director of GEM Group, a Persian-language media conglomerate.
Source » washingtonpost