Home News Terrorism Tehran Exploits Diplomatic Privileges To Strike Dissidents

Tehran Exploits Diplomatic Privileges To Strike Dissidents

Iran supports a wide variety of parastatal and nonstate groups, and terms such as
Iran supports a wide variety of parastatal and nonstate groups, and terms such as "terrorism," "insurgent" and other labels often fall short.

Twenty-five years ago, Iranian terrorists assassinated two Iranian dissidents in Turkey Zahra Rajabi and Ali Moradi. Rajabi, a prominent member of the Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), also had a seat on the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), responsible for the murder of many dissidents inside and abroad, tasked Reza Barzagar Masoumi to interfere and gain desired information for the terror attack. Iran’s representations in Ankara and Istanbul supplied the plan logistically, financially, and legally.

According to the plan approved by Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, terrorists initially tried to abduct Rajabi on February 16, 1996. However, their plan failed. Then, they activated Plan B for assassinating her.

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On February 20, 1996, Masoumi led terrorists to Rajabi’s place in Fatah district, Istanbul. They ambushed the NCRI representative and Moradi in front of an elevator at their place and assassinated them using guns with silencers. The MOIS had dispatched a professional terror squad for the plot, according to the PMOI/MEK.

Later, Turkish officials revealed that several Iranian diplomats were behind the terror plot. They were Mohsen Kargar Azad, Deputy Counselor in Istanbul; Shadkar, Embassy Attaché in Ankara; Reza Behrouz-Manesh, Deputy Counselor in Istanbul; and Ali Ashrafi, Embassy Press Attaché in Ankara.

Nonetheless, the assassination of Rajabi and Moradi is not the only Iranian terror plot abroad. Only in Turkey, the Iranian Consulate in Istanbul implemented several terror attacks, including abduction plot against PMOI/MEK member Abolhassan Mojtahedzadeh in 1989, abduction and murder of PMOI/MEK member Ali Akbar Ghorbani under torture in June 1992, the assassination of television executive Saeed Karimian in April 2017, the assassination of social media activist Massoud Molavi Vardanjani in November 2019, and abduction and transfer of Habib Chaab in October 2020.

Iran’s terror attempts and operations in Turkey are the tip of the iceberg. On February 4, a Belgian court sentenced senior Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi to 20 years in prison for masterminding a bomb plot against an annual gathering of the Iranian opposition coalition NCRI in June 2018.

Assadi directed a large network of Iran’s secret agents on European soil. He had registered receipts and appointments in a booklet impounded by German authorities. He had recruited three MOIS agents to implement the bomb plot. The court sentenced Assadi’s accomplices to 15 to 18 years in prison.

Iranian intelligence officers also have a notorious background in Albania. In March 2018, Tehran’s embassy in Tirana hired native elements and two professional agents to bomb the PMOI/MEK gathering on the eve of Nowruz, the new Persian year. Albanian authorities foiled the attack and arrested the implementors, and expelled the MOIS agents.

In December 2018, the Albanian government expelled Iranian Ambassador Gholamhossein Mohammad-Nia and his first deputy Mostafa Roudaki for involvement in the bomb plot. Albania’s investigations disclosed that Roudaki was in charge of Tehran’s intelligence station in Albania.

Recently, a former MOIS agent revealed damning details about Tehran’s espionage and terror cells in Albania, spreading fake news against the PMOI/MEK and preparing essential elements for terror attacks. “For four years, I fell into a trap set by the Iranian regime’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and its Iranian embassy in Albania. During this period, I began to collaborate with official agents of the MOIS in the Embassy in Albania, such as Fereidoun Zandi Ali-Abadi and notorious MOIS agents, including Ebrahim and Massoud Khodabandeh, Gholamreza Shekari, Ehsan Bidi, and later Hassan Heyrani. They used me in demonization, espionage, intelligence gathering, and reconnoitering schemes to carry out terrorist actions against the PMOI/MEK,” a former MOIS agent wrote.

“Zandi insisted that I should find out and gather information about the whereabouts of Mrs. (Maryam) Rajavi and senior PMOI officials. He was specifically interested in knowing where they stayed and how many bodyguards they had. Two other agents, Manouchehr Abdi and Sa’adollah Seifi assisted me in this assignment… In March 2016, I was tasked to lead a network of a group of agents. The main responsibility of this group was to write articles against the PMOI. The Khodabandeh brothers and Zandi decided the topics and provided talking points and briefs for these articles… These agents were required to set up at least one account on Facebook and one on Instagram, and to write and publish 12 articles against the Mojahedin every month, and to continuously relay and reprint topics and content identified by the embassy or the Ministry of Intelligence,” he added.