Iran’s assassins: Tehran has a long history of assassinating people

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Tehran has passed on its assassination expertise to its proxy Hezbollah and has also worked with the Syrian regime to carry out assassinations of those who oppose its interests.

Iran's Intelligence Ministry display to the media what they said are fake identification cards which they confiscated as evidence after Iran's Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi's news conference in Tehran, January 11, 2011 (photo credit: REUTERS/MORTEZA NIKOUBAZL)

Iran’s Intelligence Ministry display to the media what they said are fake identification cards which they confiscated as evidence after Iran’s Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi’s news conference in Tehran, January 11, 2011

(photo credit: REUTERS/MORTEZA NIKOUBAZL)

In 1989, Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, a Kurdish dissident living in Vienna, was supposed to meet for negotiations with Iranian officials. The secretary-general of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, his group had been brutally suppressed by Iran. Now, perhaps, the regime was changing and would be open to talks with the Kurds. Instead, Tehran sent assassins and gunned down Ghassemlou on July 13, 1989. The murderers escaped, one slipping away to the Iranian embassy.

The killing is one of many Iran has embarked upon to kill off dissidents abroad. It murdered Ghassemlou’s successor and has hunted down Kurds, Ahwazi activists and others throughout Europe over the years. Iran generally gets away with this because European and other countries believe that if they try to bar the Islamic Republic from using their soil as a killing ground, then Iran will somehow punish them. Tehran has received the blank check that Palestinian terrorists once got in Europe: As long as Iran targets non-Europeans it can hit whomever it wants, up to a point. In recent years there has been some attempt to stop Iran’s gunmen.

Iran’s plots are myriad. In 2018, it allegedly plotted to kill a dissident in Denmark. Dinn Borch Andersen, the chief of Danish intelligence, alleged that Iran was “planning an attack” against three activists, the BBC reported. Tehran’s killing machine also tried to blow up an opposition meeting in Paris in 2018 and an Iranian diplomat in Austria was operationalized for similar illegal activity. In 2015 another dissident was killed in Amsterdam. Tehran’s recent plots run across European borders from Sweden to Paris, through the Low Countries and on to Germany and Austria.

IRAN’S KILLING of dissidents abroad was a manifestation of its mass murder at home. After the revolution in 1979, Iran hunted down and murdered critics, especially from minority groups. It feared that Kurdish, Baloch, Azeri and Arab minorities might question its new leadership. It also went after groups like the MEK and others, killing thousands. Over time, the number of killings was reduced.

Iran is alleged to have killed a Kurdiish dissident in Sweden in 1990 and then a former prime minister named Shapour Bakhtiar in 1991 in France. France24 notes that on August 6, 1991, the assassin came to Bakhtiar’s home in Suresnes near Paris. Three men “strangled and stabbed” the former official. It “exposed the dark side of the Islamic Republic’s intelligence network.” One of the murderers was caught, imprisoned and allowed to return home in 2010.

Iran continued its brutality, killing more people in Germany in 1992, Sweden in 1996, and Istanbul in 2017. The 2017 killing in Turkey involved the murder of an exiled TV executive.

The US also says Iran was behind the murder of Masoud Molavi Vardanjani in Turkey in November 2019. He was hunted down by intelligence officers from Iran’s consulate in Istanbul, Reuters reported this year.

Iran has operated elsewhere as well. In 2012 the National Post reported that an Iranian “assassination team” had “plotted to kill Israeli diplomats” in Thailand. In addition, The New York Times reported that Israeli officials believed Iran was behind plots against Israeli diplomats in India and Georgia that same year.

The Economist raised questions about Al-Shabab’s relations with Iran after an attack on US service members in Kenya in January 2020. The Voice of America reports that Iran could target US interests in Africa on January 4. Nigerian police were put on alert for such a scenario. Iran has tentacles in many countries in Africa, alongside Hezbollah in some cases.

In the Central African Republic it is believed that Iran infiltrated Bangui to plot terror attacks as well, according to a May article in The National. The article accuses the IRGC Quds Force of recruiting locals for “attacks on US and Western interests.” Plots go back several years with roots in 2016. Iran’s African plots may have culminated in the plot against the US ambassador in South Africa. Politico alleged on September 13 that Iran was weighing “an assassination attempt against the American ambassador to South Africa, US intelligence reports say.”

IRAN HAS passed on its assassination expertise to its proxy Hezbollah and has also worked with the Syrian regime to carry out assassinations of those who oppose its interests. Victims may have included Francois Al-Hajj, a Lebanese major-general blown up in 2007 by a 35 kg. bomb in a BMW. Antoine Ghanem, a Christian Lebanese politician, was killed in September 2007 in another explosion.

A look through diplomatic cables reveals some other accusations. US officials warned in 1985 that assassinations by Iran could occur “at any time” in Europe. Syria’s Bashar Assad regime was thought to have rapidly increased the use of assassination as a method.

Iran was blamed for the assassination of a governor of Iraq’s Muthanna province in 2007. Iran was accused of trying to kill Basra’s provincial governor in 2008. In addition, Iran’s Hezbollah proxy was behind the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafic Hariri in 2005. When Lebanese investigator Major Wissam Eid showed that Hezbollah phone networks pointed to the group’s involvement, he was also killed.

The overall picture is that Iran’s regime has systematically used assassinations. It usually kills dissidents, encouraging its proxy groups and allies to do the same. It has also kidnapped and killed those it deems enemies of the state. In August 2020, Tehran said its intelligence services had caught a “terrorist” who was active from the US. Where Iran captured him was unclear.

Iran has not usually targeted Western officials. However, Iran’s tentacles and murderous plots have been active from Europe to Africa and Asia.

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