Qassem Soleimani (left) and Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
Iran deployed several agents to collect intelligence on the diplomatic missions of Israel, the U.S., and United Arab Emirates (UAE) in an undisclosed East African country ahead of a potential attack, Israel's Kan News reported on Monday, based on insight from Western intelligence sources. The attack was foiled last month.
The report claimed that Iran sought to target the embassies in response to the January 2020 U.S. strike that killed Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Qassem Soleimani and November's targeted assassination of senior nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, which was widely attributed to Israel.
Iran has previously threatened the UAE directly and condemned the Gulf state for normalizing diplomatic relations with Israel last summer.
Several agents involved in the alleged Iranian plot were dual European and Iranian citizens. While some of the agents were arrested in the East African country, others were detained elsewhere.
On Wednesday, Ethiopia announced that 15 people were arrested for planning to target the UAE embassy in Addis Ababa. Weapons and explosives were also seized when Ethiopian authorities foiled the plot. Another group of suspects plotting attacks against the UAE embassy in Sudan were also detained in that country, according to Ethiopia's state news agency. It is not clear whether these arrests are connected to recent reports of Iranian-led terrorist plots in East Africa.
These developments come as Iran increasingly violates the 2015 nuclear deal by further enriching uranium and reportedly expands its advanced centrifuges required to develop nuclear weapons. Beyond seeking revenge for previous assassinations, Iran could be seeking to target U.S. and Israeli embassies abroad in an effort to gain some leverage in future negotiations on its nuclear program and regional activities – including state sponsorship of Shi'a militant organizations.
Meanwhile, two unknown terrorist organizations, including one called SarAllah India Hizballah, claimed responsibility for a rudimentary improvised explosive device attack outside Israel's embassy in New Delhi last week. No one was injured. Authorities discovered a handwritten note from SarAllah India Hizballah threatening the Israeli ambassador to India: "now get ready for a big and better revenge for our heros; martyr Qasem Soleimani, Martyr Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Dr. Mohsin Fakhrizadeh (sic)," the Long War Journal reports.
The Journal notes that while this claim of responsibility appears dubious, the organization's name includes a common Shi'a moniker used by Iran-sponsored groups in Iraq and Bahrain. Indian authorities have not yet revealed whether the attack was carried out by an Iranian-affiliated organization or a local group seeking to make headlines.
Regardless of whether Iran was behind the New Delhi blast, there is significant evidence of Iran's nefarious activities abroad. For example, Iran has been deploying terrorist operatives to worldwide conduct assassinations and other types of attacks against dissidents and Western interests for decades. In some cases, Iranian diplomats play a key role in facilitating terrorist plots. A Vienna-based Iranian diplomat was convicted on Thursday of plotting a foiled terrorist attack targeting an Iranian dissident group in France in 2018. A Belgian court sentenced him to 20 years in jail after refusing to accept claims of diplomatic immunity.
Iran's efforts to target Western interests in recent years is explored in a comprehensive study published last year focusing on the Islamic Republic and Hizballah's "pre-operational modus operandi in the West." The publication is based on significant evidence, including court documents and reports detailing arrests of Iranian and Hizballah agents abroad, showing how these actors develop sleeper networks in the United States and Europe for future attacks.
The authors, who led Iran and Hizballah intelligence investigations for the NYPD, assess that "there is a high likelihood of a possible future attack on U.S. interests abroad and the possibility of an attack in the homeland," particularly in retaliation for the killing of General Soleimani.
Iran and Hizballah are known to retaliate against its enemies abroad following high profile assassinations. The 2008 targeted killing of senior Hizballah leader Imad Mughniyah, who was responsible for planning attacks against Jewish and Israeli targets around the world, including in Azerbaijan, India, Cyprus, Thailand, and Turkey, offers a clear example.
Hizballah responded by carrying out a bombing of a bus full of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria in 2012, killing five Israelis and a Bulgarian driver. In September, a Bulgarian court convicted a Lebanese-Australian and a Lebanese-Canadian in absentia for helping a Lebanese-French man carry out the attack.
Iran often recruits European and Western nationals from the Shi'a diaspora as operatives and relies on business and diplomatic covers to conceal operational plans. A similar approach appears at play in the latest report exposing Iranian terrorist plots in East Africa. Iran and its proxies often work to collect intelligence, conduct surveillance, and engage in logistical planning ahead of potential attacks.
Iran and its allies remain dedicated to targeting diplomatic and other soft targets – whether in North America, Africa, Asia, or Europe. Counterterrorism authorities in numerous countries successfully foil most of Iran's terrorist plots, sometimes with help from Israeli intelligence. But Iran appears willing to endure numerous failures in its quest to kill innocent civilians and representatives of its enemies worldwide.
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