US and UK sanction Iran-linked network over international assassination plots

Tehran accused of relying on criminal network to murder journalists and other dissidents

An armoured police vehicle and a police response car parked outside Iran International's newsroom in west London. The National
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The US and UK on Monday imposed sanctions on a network of people linked to Iran's government for their alleged involvement in assassination attempts against dissidents and opposition activists.

The assassination network is led by Naji Ibrahim Sharifi-Zindashti, a drug trafficker who works for Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security, the US Treasury Department said.

The network is believed to have carried out several assassinations, kidnappings and other operations – including in the US – “in an attempt to silence the Iranian regime's perceived critics”.

Among those kidnapped was Jamshid Sharmahd, an Iranian-German activist who was abducted while travelling abroad in 2020. Mr Sharmahd, who has US residency, was sentenced to death by an Iranian court last year in a trial that the US condemned as a sham.

Iran also relied on criminal networks in the assassination of Dutch-Ahwazi activist Ahmad Molla Nissi in The Hague in 2017 as well as the kidnapping of journalist Ruhollaz Zam in Iraq in 2019. Zam was executed in Iran in 2020.

The network also reportedly recruited a Canadian citizen in 2021 to assassinate people in the US who had fled Iran.

“The Iranian regime’s continued efforts to target dissidents and activists demonstrate the regime’s deep insecurity and attempt to expand Iran’s domestic repression internationally,” said Brian E Nelson, undersecretary of the US Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence.

In addition to Mr Sharifi-Zindashti and his network, the UK announced sanctions against six other people and an organisation linked to the Iranian government.

The UK's Foreign Office said those sanctioned included members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Unit 840. An investigation by television network ITV found that the unit was involved in assassination plots against two Iran International presenters on British soil.

“The UK and US have sent a clear message – we will not tolerate this threat,” UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron said in a statement.

“Today’s package exposes the roles of the Iranian officials and gangs involved in activity aimed to undermine, silence and disrupt the democratic freedoms we value in the UK.”

Monday's sanctions prohibit any person or business from dealing with the sanctioned individuals in the US and UK.

Updated: January 30, 2024, 9:47 AM