(Winter 1995-96) French and German authorities are viewing Iranian intelligence operations in Europe with increasing concern. In the past Iran has been suspected of supporting a variety of terrorist groups, but the suspicions rested on Iran's public approval of the group's goals and extremist ideology. Now ther is a growing body of proof that Iran provides more than approval.
The German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) revealed that it has been aware of Iran's connections to terrorist groups for some time. According to one BfV report, the Iranian embassy in Bonn required special attention because the export of the Iranian revolution was being undertaken "with great financial and personnel efforts."
The revelation that Iran is linked to terrorist operations came during the trial of the assassins accused of murdering Iranian Kurdish opposition leaders at Berlin's Mykonos restaurant in 1992. The organizer of the attack, Kazem Darabi, was an agent of Iranian intelligence with top-level contacts in the Iranian embassy. A BfV report entered into evidence at the trial made public the extent of Iran's connections to Islamic extremists in Europe.
The BfV report charged that all three arms of Iranian intelligence - the Ministry of Information, the Qods force of the Revolutionary Guards, and military intelligence - were represented at the embassy. The Ministry of Information had 20 employees and regularly used the rest of the 70 members of the embassy staff in its operations. Tehran tasked the intelligence services with hunting down its opponents abroad, with acquiring technology associated with weapons of mass destruction, and with providing intensive support to Islamic extremists groups in Europe.
According to the BfV report, Iranian agents used financial aid to influence targeted Islamic organizations and to expand their operations in accordance with Tehran's interests. Key individuals were recruited for placement in each organization to guarantee Iran's influence. Their work often was carried under the cover of cultural activities at Iranian-funded Islamic centers.
The French magazine L'Express reported that French anti-terrorist investigators have established that Iranian intelligence is the main manipulator of the armed Islamic extremist groups in Europe. According to L'Express, Iranian intelligence has been recruiting prospective terrorists among the Muslim community in France and Germany for several years.
The French government has lodged a complaint with Great Britain over its tolerance of Islamic extremists and the granting of political asylum to Mohammad Danidi, a leader of Algeria's Islamic Salvation Front. France also noted that the Al-Gama Al-Islamia, known by its French acronym of GIA, sent its first fax statement from London two years ago. Last year a GIA statement threatening to carry out acts of terrorism against the French government also came from London.
British intelligence now believes that the GIA and other Islamic extremists in London are coordinated, armed, and trained through Sudan. Sudanese leader Hassan al-Turabi is an admirer of Iran and allows Iranian Revolutionary Guards to operate terrorist training camps in Sudan.
European intelligence services have discovered that the pro-Iran Hezbollah is training GIA terrorists in Lebanon. Training with the GIA are members of Dr. Fathi Al-Shaqaqi's Palestinian Jihad. Al-Shaqaqi, who publicly admits to being financed by Tehran, has pledged to provide suicide commandos to carry out attacks in Europe and Algeria.
European security services, monitoring reports of terrorists being trained for European operations, paid particular attention to a number of clandestine meetings held in Tripoli, Lebanon, last December. A special military representative of Iranian Minister of Intelligence Ali Fallahian supervised the Tripoli meetings. Present at the meetings was Hezbollah foreign operations official Sheikh Bakai, an Al-Jihad representative, and two GIA officials from Germany and France.
The Tripoli discussions reportedly concerned a new strategy to heighten the violence in Algeria and turn the conflict into a confrontation between Islam and the West. Several days after the meetings, a GIA suicide commando hijacked a French airbus in Algiers with the intention of blowing it up in the skies over Paris. French investigators say the hijacking was no isolated event by the four individuals involved, but a well-planned operation requiring extensive coordination.
European security agencies are now monitoring agitators who are trying to recruit young Muslims resident in their countries for training in special camps in Sudan, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iran. In late 1994 French raids on GIA strongholds in France found liquid explosives of a type rarely used outside of Afghanistan, Pakistan, or the Hezbollah camps in Lebanon. It was the same type of explosive used by the GIA in the Boulevard Amirouche operation, an attack on an Algiers police housing complex that killed 42 and wounded 286.
The type of technology used in assembling the Boulevard Amirouche bomb was used by supervisors of the terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. The camps were run by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-e-Islami party until they were overrun earlier this year by opposition Taliban forces. Hekmatyar has close connections with Sudan and Iran, Tehran having brokered a deal for Sudan to exchange cotton for surplus weapons held by Hekmatyar's forces. Tehran has backed Hekmatyar against the government in Kabul.
European intelligence agencies are now investigating reports that Iranian Revolutionary Guards sent to Bosnia have recruited Bosnian Muslims for terrorist training. Sources in Bosnia claim that Iran has put together a Bosnian commando unit trained in carrying out terrorist operations in Western Europe.
Raymond van Doornik