Pakistani terrorists planned a massacre in this Athens kosher restaurant in a plot orchestrated in Iran.
IPT Senior Fellow Ioannis Kotoulas, based in Athens, filed this special report for IPT News on the Iranian terrorist plot disclosed this morning by Greek authorities.
ATHENS, GREECE – Greek authorities said Tuesday that they have disbanded an Islamist network that was planning a terrorist attack against a Chabad house in downtown Athens. "Their aim was not only the loss of innocent civilians," Greek police said, "but also undermining the security feeling in our country."
In a rare statement, Israel acknowledged that its Mossad intelligence agency assisted the in the investigation. It "rendered intelligence assistance in unraveling the infrastructure, its work methods and the link to Iran, a statement from the prime minister's office said. "The investigation revealed that the infrastructure that operated in Greece is part of an extensive Iranian network run from Iran and spanning many countries. The Mossad, together with its partners in the community, is working relentlessly to thwart intended Iranian attacks around the world."
The terrorists planned to attack several targets with the aim of maximizing casualties.
The first target, Gostijo, is a kosher restaurant in downtown Athens. The restaurant is home to the Chabad House of Athens, a part of the Chabad global network. The attack was considered imminent. The two terrorists in Greek custody reportedly scouted out the restaurant, taking photographs of the neighborhood to plot for maximum casualties and plan an escape.
The plotters considered using poisonous gas or a car bomb, police say, but later they settled on using automatic weapons bought on the black market. The goal was to kill everybody inside causing a widespread massacre. To this purpose, the two Pakistanis were in contact with local networks of the Greek criminal underworld obtaining automatic weapons. Greek police found Kalashnikov rifles in one of the suspect's homes.
The two terrorists and their handler have not been identified, but are all Shia Pakistanis. The two suspected terrorists were in Greece as temporary workers, while the 30-year old handler is believed to be in Tehran, Iran. He reportedly is wanted for previous murders.
Police say he contacted and recruited the two attackers, ages 27 and 29. He promised the two, who had been in Greece five years, €15,000 for each person killed.
All three individuals hailed from Sargodha, a town in the Punjab region of Pakistan. They are described Greek intelligence and police as "hard individuals with no moral qualms and respect of human life, and embedded with religious fanaticism."
The mastermind urged the two arrested terrorists to recruit more members in order to commit additional attacks in squares, market malls and soccer stadiums. "Let's kill two, three, as many as we can," he wrote to his conspirators, according to Greek media reports citing intelligence sources. Additional attacks would follow, according to the information available, including assassinations.
The two Pakistanis in custody are due in court Friday on charges of creating and participating in a terrorist organization.
Greek intelligence services obtained information from Pakistani migrant communities singling out the two Shia Islamists. Greek intelligence learned last August about the existence of an Islamist terrorist network involving Pakistanis that was preparing attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets. They put the two suspects under constant surveillance in February. They were first apprehended at that time for illegally residing in Greece. Investigators examined their cell phones discovered their connections with the Iranian-based mastermind.
The network was trying to recruit more Pakistani migrants, contacting at least 15 people. Greek police have questioned the 15, but none has been charged.
This is not the first time a Chabad House was targeted by Pakistani terrorists. Six Jews were among the 166 people killed in the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. They were inside the Mumbai Chabad house, which was specifically targeted by Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists who thought it was a Mossad front.
And for decades, Iran has sought out Jewish targets across the globe for terrorism. In 1994, 85 people were killed in a bombing at a Buenos Aires Jewish center. Hizballah carried out the attack with Iran's help. A day later, a suicide bombing on a Panamanian commuter airplane killed all 22 people on board, including 12 leading local Jewish businessmen.
Two years earlier, 29 people were killed in a bombing at Israel's Argentine embassy. The Hizballah attack was authorized by "the highest levels of the Iranian regime," Israeli's Foreign Ministry said.
In July 2012, a bomb widely attributed to Hizballah killed five Israeli tourists and a bus driver in Bulgaria. Iran is accused of plotting additional terrorist attacks in countries such as Egypt, Cyprus, Georgia, Thailand, India and others.
More recently, Israeli intelligence last summer foiled three separate Iranian plots to kidnap or kill Israeli citizens visiting Turkey. In one case, a couple reportedly was picked up by Israeli security agents in a van and rushed to the airport because Iranian assassins were waiting for them in their hotel.
The Pakistani-Iranian connection
It is not yet known who would pay the hundreds of thousands of euros promised to the terrorists for a successful, bloody attack. Greek media claim that the terrorist network is part of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), designated by the United States as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
Iran's Islamist regime has had close relations for decades with Pakistani Shias. Pakistan smuggled nuclear material to IRGC operatives in London, human rights and national security lawyer Irina Tsukerman, told the Investigative Project on Terrorism. And there have been previous assassination attempts of Israeli targets in Greece.
"Iran has been adept in recruiting disenfranchised Shia Pakistanis to its military ranks. It's a mixture of concerted radicalization and financial needs. The international community must reexamine Iran's concerning links to Pakistani actors; last year's IRGC/ISI joint intelligence infiltration of the Secret Service all the way to the top, shows the growing strategic, not just tactical, security and intelligence cooperation between the rogue regimes," she said.
On a geopolitical level, the foiled attack could be part of an attempt by Iranian hardliners to destabilize the Greek government ahead of the national elections which were set for May 21.
The effective cooperation of Greek authorities with Israel led to an important success in the fight against Islamist terrorism.
IPT Senior Fellow Ioannis E. Kotoulas (Ph.D. in History, Ph.D. in Geopolitics) is Adjunct Lecturer in Geopolitics at the University of Athens, Greece. His latest book is Geopolitics of the War in Ukraine.
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