Eastern European mercenaries suspected of stabbing Iranian journalist in London | UK news

Three suspects wanted for the stabbing of an Iranian dissident journalist on a suburban London street were from eastern Europe and were hired and flown into Britain to carry out the attack, investigators believe.

Pouria Zeraati survived being stabbed in the leg in Wimbledon, south-west London, last month. His television channel, Iran International, had received threats before, which he and supporters blame on the Iranian regime.

After the attack the three eastern European suspects quickly fled Britain, flying out within hours from Heathrow airport. Detectives believe they flew to different destinations on commercial flights.

Counter-terrorism policing and Britain’s security services are leading the investigation and the attack is believed to be the latest example of the Iranian regime using criminal proxies to carry out acts of violence against its critics on western soil.

The three men are believed to have entered the UK shortly before the attack on Zeraati. British investigators are examining if one suspect has links to Albania.

It is believed whoever is behind the attack, suspected most likely to be those acting on behalf of the interests of the Iranian regime, used links and knowledge of criminal gangs to hire the attackers, western sources believe.

The use of criminal proxies gives Tehran deniability, senior British counter-terrorism officials believe, with those hired unlikely to be on any watchlist or to raise alarm if they enter the UK.

Zeraati was attacked on 29 March as he approached his car.

In media interviews, Zeraati said a man approached him and asked for £3 and then a second man approached, before he was held and saw a knife. He says he was struck in the leg. Nothing was taken.

Zeraati told ITV News of his suspicions as to the motive: “That was the moment it clicked, it was related to my job. I think it was a warning shot.”

A third man was waiting in a blue Mazda car, and drove all three away. The Mazda was later found abandoned a few miles away in New Malden.

Shortly after the attack, the Met said: “Because the victim is a journalist at a Persian-language media organisation based in the UK, and previous threats had been directed towards this group of journalists, the incident is being investigated by specialist officers from the Met’s counter-terrorism command …

“After abandoning the vehicle, the suspects travelled directly to Heathrow airport and left the UK within a few hours of the attack.”

Commander Dominic Murphy of the Met added: “We are now working with international partners to establish further details.

“I must reiterate that we are still at an early stage of our investigation, we do not know the reason why this victim was attacked and there could be a number of explanations for this.”

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Iran’s charge d’affaires in the UK, Seyed Mehdi Hosseini Matin, has denied his government’s involvement.

Counter-terrorism investigators say that since 2022 a series of plots to “kidnap or even kill … individuals perceived as enemies of the Iranian regime” have been hatched and largely disrupted.

Britain’s head of counter-terrorism, Assistant Commissioner Matt Jukes, warned in January that hostile states such as Iran using criminal proxies was an emerging trend: “One of those trends is the overlap between hostile state actors and organised crime.

“The big connecting factor is of course money, but also the use of criminal proxies to carry out the work of hostile regimes.

“Why would you do it yourself when you can procure an organised criminal to take the action on your behalf to provide distance and deniability.”

In December 2023 a man was convicted of carrying out hostile reconnaissance on the Chiswick, west London, base of Iran International. Magomed-Husejn Dovtaev flew into Gatwick from Vienna in February 2023, and then took a minicab to the site in Chiswick.

Security guards believed he was suspicious and called the police.

Chechen-born Dovtaev flew into Gatwick airport in February, took a cab to the TV channel’s base on a business park in west London, where he was spotted and police were called. He was convicted of attempting to collect information likely to be useful for terrorism and jailed for three and a half years.

US authorities also believe they have seen an Iranian-orchestrated plot using criminal proxies from eastern Europe to stage an assassination attempt against a dissident.

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2024/apr/18/eastern-european-mercenaries-suspected-of-stabbing-iranian-journalist-in-london

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