Iran recruited fugitive Hell's Angel for arson attack on German synagogue

Judges say Iran was behind 2022 plot to attack synagogue through middleman who lived in luxury

A synagogue in Bochum was chosen for an arson attack, but an operative enlisted by Iran backed out of the plot. Getty Images
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An arson plot against a German synagogue was ordered by the Iranian state in an escalation of its secret activities in Europe, a court found.

Judges say a German-Iranian jailed over the ultimately aborted Molotov cocktail attack was put up to it by a fugitive Hell’s Angel passing on orders from Tehran.

The middleman, Ramin Yektaparast – who was wanted in connection with two shootings – asked a friend awed by his luxury lifestyle to attack a synagogue as a “favour”.

However, the intended arsonist, 36-year-old Babak J, got cold feet on the night of the attack and threw his weapon at a derelict school building.

Germany is considering its next steps after summoning Iran’s ambassador over the newly unsealed verdict.

Drawing on WhatsApp messages and taped phone calls, it says the 2022 plot was meant to create a “climate of insecurity” in line with Iran’s “anti-Semitic and anti-Israel policy”.

In clues to Iran’s involvement:

· The regime in Tehran appeared to have assisted Mr Yektaparast when he fled from Germany to Iran to avoid arrest

· Texts to Babak J pestering him for updates (“so that I don’t look a fool”) made clear that Mr Yektaparast was answering to superiors

· Babak J, 36, himself a regime loyalist, tried to recruit an accomplice by intimating he had well-placed friends in Iran

· Mr Yektaparast did not deny a regime link when challenged in a secretly recorded phone call with Babak J’s father

· Neither man had an obvious personal motive, whereas an attack ordered by Iran would fit with its “political orientation”. A shooting at a second German synagogue that evening also suggested a concerted plot

Babak J was jailed for two years and nine months over the plot in Bochum, western Germany, but judges are convinced the order ultimately came from “Iranian state agencies”.

German intelligence has repeatedly warned of secret Iranian activity targeting dissidents, Jewish people and perceived enemies abroad.

“Planning an arson attack does represent an escalation compared to previous espionage-focused activities,” the court ruling said. “However, it is in line with the Iranian regime’s anti-Semitic and anti-Israel policy.”

Diplomatic fallout

Germany’s Foreign Ministry revealed on Wednesday it had summoned Iran’s ambassador for a second time in three months over the case.

“We will share the verdict immediately with our European partners and the European institutions, and will consider next steps,” it said.

Iran is already under extensive sanctions for its human rights record, nuclear and ballistic missile programmes and attempts to meddle in the West.

In 2021, an Iranian diplomat was jailed for 20 years for plotting a bomb attack on an opposition rally in Paris.

Tehran is also believed to have menaced journalists at the Iran International TV station in London, which had to pause its broadcasting due to death threats.

In the German case, the court in Dusseldorf said the arson plot appeared to be linked to a shooting at another synagogue, in Essen, on the same evening of November 17, 2022.

It said Mr Yektaparast passed on the arson order in a WhatsApp call with Babak J, giving him detailed instructions to wear gloves and start a fire at the synagogue after dark.

The biker, wanted over a suspected Hell’s Angel murder in 2014 and an attempted murder a year earlier, had befriended and impressed Babak J with his luxury lifestyle in Iran.

However, Babak J proved a clumsy operative. A friend (“G”) was approached as an accomplice, but was shocked by the plot and went to the police to try to stop it.

Realising he had to act alone, Babak J bought a bottle, filled it with petrol and drove to the synagogue, not realising his borrowed car had a GPS tracker.

After several hours of driving and pacing around the synagogue, he concluded it was too well-lit and protected, and feared he was likely to be caught if he went ahead, the court said.

Wanting to show Mr Yektaparast he had at least tried his best, he lit his Molotov cocktail and threw it over a fence at the empty school annexe, causing a small fire.

Nobody was hurt, but police were quickly on Babak J’s case and arrested him at his home despite his efforts to cover his tracks by throwing away his gloves and a burner phone.

Defence lawyers had argued Babak J was guilty of no more than damage to the school after ditching the synagogue plot.

But the court found him guilty of attempted arson and conspiracy to commit arson, ruling he backed out “involuntarily” because attacking the synagogue appeared too risky.

It also dismissed his suggestions that the school was the target and his denials of an anti-Semitic motive, which were contradicted by material found on his laptop.

“There is no apparent reason why [the two men] should have planned an attack on a school,” the ruling says. “By contrast, an arson attack initiated by the Iranian state on a Jewish institution is plausible, and accords with Iran’s political orientation.”

Updated: March 28, 2024, 12:52 PM