It appears that target packages can include several categories, including ordinary citizens residing abroad and viewed as a threat by the Iranian regime.
These foreign citizens or residents can be human rights defenders, critics of the Iranian leaders, political activists, and dissidents. Examples include Saeed Karimian — an Iranian-born British citizen, television executive, chairman and owner of 20 TV channels operating in Persian, Arabic, Azeri and Kurdish languages — who was shot dead along with his Kuwaiti business partner in Turkey in 2017.
The Turkish authorities pointed the finger at the Iranian regime as two accused operatives were arrested in Serbia with fake passports while they attempted to return to Iran. Saeed Karimian had been sentenced to death in absentia by Iran’s judiciary system.
Ahmad Mola Nissi, a Dutch citizen of Iranian origin, was in The Hague when an assassin shot him dead at his front door in 2017. The 52-year-old activist was a prominent figure in the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz, an activist group that calls for the formation of a separate state in western Iran. The Dutch government publicly announced that it had “strong indications” that the Iranian government was behind the assassination of its citizen. Another European citizen, Mohammad Reza Kolahi Samadi, an opponent of the Iranian regime, was killed in the Netherlands in 2015.
It is worth noting that Iran’s terrorist plots are increasingly being foiled. For instance, in September 2018, a plot to assassinate an Arab separatist leader who lives in Denmark was thwarted. The alleged assassin was arrested and the Danish Security and Intelligence Service said in a statement that: “There is sufficient basis to conclude that an Iranian intelligence service has been planning the assassination.”
Another category includes foreign political leaders and diplomats whom the regime opposes. Probably at the top of Iran’s target list are politicians or diplomats from those countries that Iran views as rivals, such as the US and Saudi Arabia. For instance, in a well-known case, two Iranian nationals were convicted of plotting to assassinate Adel Al-Jubeir, now Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, at a restaurant in Washington DC in 2011, when he was the Saudi ambassador to the United States.
The third category comprises larger scale terrorist plots against independent organizations, groups, or governmental institutions. For example, less than a year ago, an attack targeting a convention in Paris called “Free Iran,” was thwarted. An Iranian diplomat and several other individuals of Iranian origin were subsequently arrested in France, Belgium and Germany. Many thousands, including dissidents, human rights defenders and high-profile political leaders, were present at the place where the bomb was supposed to detonate.
In the last few years the Islamic Republic has been actively working to accomplish its objective of attacking foreign citizens, organizations and governments. In December 2018, the Albanian government expelled the Iranian ambassador Gholamhossein Mohammadnia and another Iranian diplomat for allegedly plotting terrorist attacks in Albania.
One of the reasons behind the Iranian regime’s increasing attempts to carry out such attacks is the rising economic and political pressure on Tehran. The US economic sanctions, as well as the financial, political and currency crises in Tehran, have inflicted significant pain on the ruling clerics.
The regime seems desperate for additional revenue and cash to maintain its network of militia and terror groups across the region. Three of the major Iranian institutions that are most likely behind these attacks are the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), its elite branch the Quds Force, which operates in foreign nations to advance the militaristic and revolutionary ideals of the Islamic Republic, and the Ministry of Intelligence (Etela’at). These institutions have the capabilities to employ a wide range of operatives and agents, including Iranian diplomats working in other countries.
When pressure is imposed on Tehran, the Iranian regime responds by employing the only modus operandi that it is familiar with: carrying out terrorist attacks and assassinations on foreign soil. This does not mean that the international community should pursue appeasement policies toward the Iranian leaders. Instead, the Iranian leaders must be more forcefully held accountable for conducting such heinous acts, imposing fear in other nations, and destabilizing peace and security across the globe.