IRGC-linked activist luring UK-based scientists in attempt to boost Iranian military

Network director seeking to engage academics with expertise in dual-use technologies


An Iranian scientific network led by a regime loyalist who has links to Iran’s brutal Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps is trying to engage UK-based academics with expertise in dual-use technologies.

Mohammad Hussain Ataee Dolat Abadi, director of International Conference of Research in Europe (ICRE), has persuaded leading scientists and engineers from universities including Cambridge, Birmingham, Glasgow Caledonian and University College London to share their ideas and address conferences in Tehran.

The network was personally backed by the former Iranian minister of science and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and is an official partner of the Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, which has been subject to UK and EU sanctions due to its involvement with Iran’s nuclear weapons programme since 2012.

Abadi, a Bradford University engineering graduate, can also be linked to an official regime strategy designed to acquire Western technology for use by its military.

He told Iran’s Fars news agency the plan was to recruit “experts in scientific fields and have studied in prestigious European universities… willing to use their expertise inside the country”.

The organisation, an offshoot of Abadi’s Union of Islamic Students Associations of Europe, held a conference in Tehran in 2023, at which photographs of the late general Qasem Soleimani, the IRGC’s terrorist mastermind — killed in a US drone strike in 2020 — were displayed.

As the JC revealed two weeks ago, it was from the Union’s base in London that Abadi arranged online talks by at least eight IRGC commanders, which featured Holocaust denial and calls to kill Jews in a coming apocalyptic war.

The ICRE website was taken down two days after this newspaper revealed the talks by the IRGC commanders, but the JC had already copied and preserved it.

The site gave details of conference lectures by seven UK-based academics, and named a further 14 as serving on its board or scientific committee.

The 2023 conference was also attended by former Iranian science minister Dr Sorena Sattari, and a personal representative of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The ICRE held an earlier online conference in 2022.

The UK-based academics listed as involved with the ICRE are leaders in fields including artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, nanotechnology, advanced engine technology and quantum physics and computing, all of which are severely restricted by international sanctions on Iran.

While there is no evidence that any of them back the regime or know about the ICRE director’s links to the IRGC, some of the technologies in which they specialise are listed as “high priority” in a regime strategy document, co-signed by Hossein Salami, the IRGC commander in chief.

The 2021 document, details of which were first revealed by Iran expert Kasra Aarabi in the JC last month, also says that in order to enhance its “defence and security”, Iran should develop “maximum effective collaborations with national and international university departments”.

Those named on the 2023 ICRE conference agendas and now defunct website include Professor Hadi Larijani, the director of Glasgow Caledonian University’s Smart Technology Centre, an expert in advanced computing and cybersecurity. He was listed on the network’s website as being due to give a talk on the “artificial intelligence revolution”.

Prof Larijani is the son of Mohammad-Javad Larijani, an adviser to the Iranian regime’s judiciary and the former head of its self-styled “human rights council”.

Other speakers listed by the organisation include Cambridge economics professor Hashem Pesaran, who was due to speak about climate change in the Middle East, Staffordshire University Professor Hamidreza Darabkhani who was slated to discuss Net Zero and hydrogen as an energy source.

Following this year’s conference, Iranian supreme leader Khamenei praised its work as “very good news”.

Khamenei made the comments after meeting Abadi and other representatives of the Union of Islamic Students Associations of Europe.

He told them: “A lot of foreign universities are more advanced than us in many scientific matters”.

Thirteen academics at UK universities, all of Iranian origin, are listed as having served on the ICRE network’s science committee.

The committee also includes machine learning expert Mahed Abroshan, who was at Cambridge University’s Alan Turing Institute until earlier this year. He is the co-author of an article in Farsi which suggests the “apocalypse” is close and will be brought about by Shia Muslims and Iran’s Islamic revolution.

This week, Abroshan confirmed he had been asked to join the ICRE committee but “ended up not doing much”.

When asked about its links with the IRGC, he refused to comment and ended the conversation.

A page on the websiite for the 2022 conference told participants that by attending the conference, “you will have the opportunity to network with other students and academics abroad.”

It added: “You can get good advice from other academics at the conference and maybe form new relationships that lead to writing joint papers and future academic collaborations.”

When contacted by the JC, most of the listed speakers and science committee members did not respond to requests for comment and others insisted they did not support the regime or its goals.

The Cambridge economist Pesaran said he got “many invitations to present my research” and had spoken about climate change and the macroeconomy.

He said he had “no other connection” to the ICRE network and was “concerned” to learn that Abadi had close links with the regime and IRGC.

Staffordshire University’s Darabkhani, who spoke in both 2022 and 2023, said: “I did not support ICRE and just presented two online talks about the use of renewable energy systems.”

He added: “This was purely based on email invitations from the conference secretary (as we routinely receive from conference organisers) and I didn’t engage in any other activities with them whatsoever.”

Darabkhani also said that he was unaware that Abadi had any links to the IRGC.

Some of those named as committee members on the ICRE site also distanced themselves from the network.

Dr Amir Esmaeilly, an artificial intelligence expert from Trinity College, Dublin, said: “I was asked to participate in this conference as a referee.

“I do this type of academic work for many institutions/journals and conferences around the world on a pro bono basis and I did not seek nor receive remuneration and I have never received renumeration for this type of academic work.

“I have no connections with the IRGC or any other military organisation.

“My work is purely academic, and I have no links with any universities or institutions in Iran and to try and associate me with any is untrue and libellous.”

Larijani and Abadi have been approached for comment.

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