Iran’s global terrorism worsens as domestic challenges increase
FRANCE: Each year, a coalition of Iranian dissident groups holds an international gathering near Paris to reaffirm their support for the ouster of the mullahs’ regime from their homeland. The Iran Freedom Rally typically attracts something like 100,000 participants from around the world, including both expatriate activists and political supporters of the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI ) and its main constituent group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, have been thorns in the side of the theocratic system practically since it came into being in the aftermath of the 1979 revolution. The regime’s response to coordinated opposition has taken many forms. And while it could never have been described as tolerant, there have been times when Tehran was at least somewhat wary of reaching far beyond its borders in its effort to stamp out the Resistance.
In the 1980s and 90s, Iranian operatives carried out a number of assassinations of opposition activists in Europe and North America.
But in subsequent years, this particular brand of terrorism became less prevalent. It never vanished entirely, though, and it is difficult to say how much of the decline is attributable to a change in the regime’s strategy, as opposed to more effective counterintelligence and law enforcement in would-be target countries.
In the 2000s, Tehran was still attacking pockets of resistance activism abroad, but it generally appeared to be focusing closer to home. In the wake of the US invasion of Iraq, the mullahs seized an opportunity to expand their influence over their neighbor. This was especially important in view of the fact that much of the PMOI leadership had previously established themselves in a self-built community in eastern Iraq known as Camp Ashraf.
The Ashrafis remained embattled for many years, even after moving to the former US military base known as Camp Liberty. Dozens of residents were killed in direct assaults by Iranian operatives and their Iraqi proxies, or as a result of blockades of medicine and essential services, before the last of the dissidents were finally relocated out of the region in 2016. Under international agreements, Albania agreed to take a substantial portion of the Ashrafis, who have since established a new headquarters in the Balkan country.
The relocation frustrated Tehran’s greatest efforts to strike a decisive blow against the pro-democracy Resistance movement. As such, it prompted a major shift in the regime’s assessment of risk versus reward when it comes to deploying its terrorist operatives into stable theaters of operation, far outside the Middle East. Albania predictably came to be viewed as a viable target, and local authorities have caught multiple Iranian operatives plotting to attack the PMOI compound.
In December 2018, the Albanian government expelled the Iranian ambassador from the country
The ambassador expelled along with the station chief for Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security, after recognizing the role that both had played in planning terrorist activities that targeted the Iranian Resistance. It was not the first country to order such an expulsion that year, as 2018 revealed Tehran’s fixation on its opposition set the stage for attacks on even riskier targets than Albania.
In June of that year, Belgian authorities arrested two would-be Iranian bombers as they attempted to cross the border into France and gain access to the NCRI’s Iran Freedom rally. Investigations into the plot revealed that it had been directed by a leading diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, who was stationed in Vienna at the time. He and the two operatives remain in custody, where they ought to be viewed as a warning to other European countries about the dangers posed by Iranian diplomatic institutions.
Not all Western policymakers have been appropriately sensitive to lessons of the Albanian and French bomb plots. But awareness has been growing over the past two years about the re-invigoration of Iran’s terrorist threats. Unsurprisingly, the US has been somewhat out in front on this issue, with bipartisan groups of lawmakers urging their European allies to take the problem seriously and to follow Albania’s lead by pushing out suspicious Iranian diplomats, with an eye toward shuttering embassies if Tehran fails to dramatically change its approach to international relations.
This was the message of House Resolution 374, which was introduced to Congress last year and was recently presented to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with a remarkable list of 221 bipartisan co-sponsors. On Wednesday, some of those lawmakers discussed the document in a video briefing with representatives of the Organization of Iranian-American Communities.
The OIAC routinely facilitates travel to NCRI events, as well as distributing information about the Resistance platform and activist goals within the expatriate community.
The organization has naturally endorsed the content of Resolution 374, which states in part that US government agencies are called upon “to work with European allies… to hold Iran accountable for breaching diplomatic privileges, and to call on nations to prevent the malign activities of the Iranian regime’s diplomatic missions.”
The resolution also takes the all-too-rare step of putting explicit emphasis on Iran’s thwarted terror plots on Western soil
As well as acknowledging the source of those plots in the regime’s growing anxiety about a powerful domestic Resistance movement. Both before and after the Paris bomb plot, the PMOI played a leading role in two nationwide uprisings against the clerical regime, and Iranian authorities have been openly warning that there is likely more to come.
Considering that Tehran is more than prepared to lash out on European and American territory in the hope of halting this activism, it is only right that Western powers should be willing to stand with those entities that fully revealed Tehran’s disinterest in keeping the peace with its adversaries.
To its great credit, this is exactly the position that the House Resolution takes. It proclaims that Congress “stands with the people of Iran who are continuing to hold legitimate and peaceful protests against an oppressive and corrupt regime” and that it “recognizes the rights of the Iranian people and their struggle to establish a democratic, secular, and non-nuclear republic of Iran.”
Such statements shouldn’t be as unusual as they are. Where Iran is concerned, Western commitment to the status quo should never have survived the bomb plots in Paris or Albania. It shouldn’t have even survived the attacks on Camps Ashraf and Liberty, or past revelations about the presence, platform, and social effectiveness of the Iranian Resistance. That movement represents real potential for a change of government in what is now the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. It is long past time that the entire US government – and all of democratic society – stand tall in support of the National Council of Resistance of Iran and make it their declared goal to help the Iranian people throw off the theocratic regime that has been oppressing them for more than 40 years.