Iran is hiring organised criminals to spy on Britain’s Jews in preparation for a potential assassination campaign against prominent members of the community, Security Minister Tom Tugendhat told the JC.
Last week, we exposed how the regime is “mapping” Jews in the diaspora to lay the ground for high-profile revenge murders should Israel launch a military attack against the theocracy.
In response, the minister, who is responsible for MI5, said: “You were right. We have very clear intelligence about the activities of hostile regimes in the UK and we keep a very close eye on what their agents and those close to them are doing.
“We know that the Iranians are using non-traditional sources to carry out these operations, including organised criminal gangs.
“They are paying criminal gangs to conduct surveillance.
“Basically, the Iranians are using crooks based in Britain to spy for them.”
He added: “You can be very clear that I wouldn’t have mentioned Jewish and Israeli targets unless I had good reason to do so.
“I take all threats against anyone in the UK very seriously and the reason I highlighted Israelis and the Jewish community is that we have been seeing threats and Iranian operational activity directed against them. I do not issue these warnings lightly.”
Last week’s warning about the Iranian threat against diaspora communities came in an interview with a Jewish woman who had gone undercover to Tehran and met key figures in the Iranian regime. A series of visits to the country led to her meeting Ayatollah Khamenei himself.
French-born Catherine Perez-Shakdam, who lives in the UK, told the JC how she was told of the plan to map high-profile Jews to “make the diaspora pay a price” for any Israeli attack.
“The idea was to identify all the prominent NGOs run by Jews, who was doing what in each business sector, the important rabbis,” Perez-Shakdam, 41, said.
“They wanted to figure out their influence and where they lived with their families in order to target them.
“They wanted to have a better understanding so they would know how to strike and where, so that if Israel ever dared to attack Iran, the diaspora would have a very nasty surprise.”
Tugendhat said he could not comment on the sources of his briefings, nor give precise details of the intelligence they had gathered, but added that outside Britain, Iran was also using international criminal gangs to conduct surveillance of Jews and other targets in other Western countries.
“We can connect this to the threat of lethal operations, and this is one of the things I have been discussing in conversations with the French, the Germans, the Americans and others,” he said.
The minister’s latest comments come after he gave a statement in the House of Commons in which he confirmed that an Iranian opposition television station, Iran International, was having to close its London office because of the threat to its staff.
He said that police and the Security Services had detected 15 “credible threats” to kill or kidnap UK citizens and residents in the past year and that Iran had tried to gather information about Jews as a “preparation for lethal operations”.
The Minister’s comments put further focus on the intense debate taking place inside cabinet over whether the IRGC should be proscribed as a terrorist entity, as it has been by the US.
Earlier this year, government sources has suggested that a decision to proscribe the IRGC was imminent.
However, since then there has been resistance, mainly from the Foreign Office, with sources suggesting diplomats feared proscription would lead to Iran retaliating and forcing the closure of British embassy in Tehran, cutting channels of communication with the regime.
There are also fears that the lives of more than 20 dual national British-Iranian citizens detained in Iran could be put at further risk following last month’s execution of Alireza Akbar, a former Iranian minister who had been living in London.
It is being claimed in Whitehall that the US Biden administration has asked Britain not to proscribe the IRGC, because it too wants the British embassy to stay open.
There has been no US embassy in Iran since it was stormed during the Islamic revolution in 1979 and 52 American diplomats were taken hostage.
In his commons statement, the minister named an IRGC member, Mohammad Mehdi Mozayyani, who he said had “worked to conduct a lethal operation against Iranian dissidents here in the United Kingdom”.
The security minister and the Home Secretary Suella Braverman are thought to strongly favour deeming the IRGC a terrorist organisation.
Asked about the ongoing political row, Tugendhat declined to comment. He said: “The Home Secretary and I stand as one on these issues. She has been exceptional in the way she has handled it in every way.”
Perez-Shakdam, who first made the revelations to the JC last week, had gone to Iran as a guest of the New Horizons organisation which targets individuals useful to its aims.
The group flew like-minded individuals to a series of all-expenses-paid events in Tehran and was, according to the US government, a thinly veiled recruitment and intelligence operation designed to ensnare its foreign guests.
It led to Monica Witt, a US Air Force intelligence officer, defecting to Iran.
Perez-Shakdam said she had learned of the secret operation at a private, invitation-only meeting during one of those conferences in Tehran, during one of several trips to the country in 2017, at the invitation Iran’s so-called “Dr Goebbels,” the late-film maker and propaganda chief Nader Talebzadeh.
The Iranians, who had no idea she was Jewish, contacted her after she began writing for pro-regime websites and reported for the Russian propaganda channel, RT.
She also met the Islamic Republican Guards Corps (IRGC) terrorist mastermind General Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike in 2020, and the current hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi.