Suspects in London attack on Iranian journalist 'fled UK within hours'

Police identify three men thought to be involved in stabbing of Iran International's Pouria Zeraati

Iran International journalist Pouria Zeraati. He was attacked outside his home in Wimbledon, south London. Photo: Iran International
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Three men suspected of being involved in the stabbing of Iran International journalist Pouria Zeraati are believed to have fled the country within hours of the attack, Metropolitan Police said.

Mr Zeraati has been discharged from hospital after he was attacked outside his home in Wimbledon, south London, on Friday. He was injured in the leg.

Met Police said that while the motivation for the attack was not yet clear, Mr Zeraati's occupation coupled with recent threats to Iranian journalists in the UK meant the investigation was being led by counter-terrorism officers.

The force said three people are suspected of carrying out the attack. A vehicle said to be linked to the incident has been recovered. Detectives believe Mr Zeraati was attacked by two men who fled in a vehicle driven by a third man.

The vehicle, a blue Mazda 3, was abandoned in the New Malden area shortly after the attack. It is being examined by police.

“We have identified three suspects who we believe left the UK within hours of the attack,” said Dominic Murphy, head of the Met’s counter-terrorism command.

“Detectives trawled CCTV and made extensive inquiries resulting in the identification and recovery of a vehicle used by the suspects to leave the scene.

“We have established that after abandoning the vehicle, the suspects travelled to Heathrow Airport and have left the UK. We are now working with international partners to establish further details.

“We do not know the reason why this victim was attacked and there could be a number of explanations for this. I appreciate the concern this incident has caused, for local people and all those impacted.

“Additional patrols are continuing in the Wimbledon area and at other locations in London.”

Iran International spokesman Adam Baillie said the broadcaster and its journalists have been targets for Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The channel in London aims to provide independent coverage of Iran, which has declared the outlet to be a terrorist organisation.

Journalists and their families have been the targets of IRGC members, Mr Baillie said. Iran’s charge d’affaires in the UK, Mehdi Hosseini Matin, said “we deny any link” to the stabbing attack.

Asked what he believed was behind the attack, Mr Baillie told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme “the fact that counter-terrorism is leading the investigation probably speaks for itself”.

“Along with our colleagues at BBC Persian, Iran International has been under threat, very heavy threats, for the last 18 months since the IRGC said, ‘We’re coming for you’, which they have consistently repeated,” he added.

He said the IRGC “gets in touch through proxies, they don’t leave a paper trail”.

“No one’s going to call up from the IRGC and go, ‘Hey, it’s us’, but families have been taken in for questioning and threatened.

“The scale of that has increased dramatically over the last few months, and the scale and the type of questioning is more aggressive, ‘tell your relatives to stop working for this channel’ and so on.”

In January, the British Foreign Office imposed sanctions on members of the IRGC’s Unit 840, after an ITV investigation into a plot to assassinate two of Iran International’s presenters in the UK.

Officials said the plot was the latest credible example of Iran’s attempts to kill or intimidate Britons or people with links to the UK, with at least 15 such threats reported since January 2022.

In December, an IT worker was jailed for three and a half years for spying on Iran International before a “planned attack” on British soil. Magomed-Husejn Dovtaev carried out hostile reconnaissance operation at the London headquarters of Iran International in February.

After a trial at the Old Bailey, the Chechnya-born Austrian citizen was found guilty of trying to collect information for terrorist purposes.

Updated: April 03, 2024, 10:34 AM