Plot to assassinate presenters 'will not knock Iran International off air'

The TV station is defiant after an investigation found the IRGC hired an assassin to kill Sima Sabet and Fardad Farahzad in London

Fardad Farahzad and Sima Sabet. Photo: Iran International
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Iran International has said it will not be cowed by attempts by the Iranian regime to shut it down, following an investigation into an assassination plot against two of its London presenters.

Sima Sabet and Fardad Farahzad, who both lived in London, have spoken of the moment they were told there was a plot to murder them in a knife attack at their homes and their determination to keep working.

The plot was foiled when the would-be killer hired by Tehran’s spies turned double agent, according to an investigation by ITN.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps is said to have offered $200,000 (£158,290) to a people smuggler to murder the journalists after an initial plot to plant a car bomb outside the studio was foiled due to the presence of heavy security.

The Metropolitan Police were alerted and told the station of the threat to the lives of its staff.

Head of security at the Farsi-language TV channel Roger Macmillan told The National it was remarkable that Tehran had the audacity to organise acts of terror in the UK to silence its critics.

Mr Macmillan said the station would not be intimidated by threats, which are ongoing, even though staff do have concerns about their personal safety. He also praised the Met Police for giving the “most phenomenal support” to help keep staff and the premises safe.

“This is this is what we’re dealing with on a regular basis,” he said.

“Their resolve the resilience, their commitment, at a time when their own country is of origin is seeking to do them harm, is phenomenal. And they have really dug deep into their own personal reserves of strength and fortitude and they will not be cowed by this.”

Mr Macmillan said the station began receiving “unwanted attention” from the Iranian regime in 2018.

“These threats have grown over the years as the regime becomes more and more concerned about how we are reporting and the reach and the impact that we have in Iran, and on the Iranian diaspora globally,” he said.

“The more impact that we have, the more determined they seem to become to take more drastic measures.

“It's remarkable that they have the audacity to wish to commit acts of terror on UK soil and UK territory. They are willing to go to these extreme lengths to sort of silence the critics.”

Iran International staff worked under armed protection with its west London offices were fortified by a steel fence before the station temporarily relocated to its Washington studios. Seven months later, they returned to London at new premises with heightened security measures.

Iran International TV resumes operations from London

Iran International TV resumes operations from London

Its journalists had been threatened over the channel's rolling coverage of the mass anti-government protests that rocked Iran following the death of Mahsa Amini last September.

The 22-year-old Kurdish woman died after allegedly being beaten following her arrest by Iran's morality police for not wearing her hijab properly.

Farahzad, a former BBC News reporter who was working out of London before his nightly show was relocated to Washington, said he has only recently found out about the plot to kill him.

“Hearing it first hand makes it more real. It’s shocking to see people who are casually talking about harming me,” he told ITV.

His colleague Sabet added: “The fact that they tried to kill me shows I did my job well, I was effective. I didn’t betray people and I stood with them, even with my life on the line.”

The plot to kill the presenters was code-named “The Wedding” and they were given the target names “bride” and “groom”.

ITV says the IRGC’s Unit 840, which carries out overseas assassinations, was responsible for killing the presenters, with Muhammed Abd Al Razek Kanafani its alleged organiser.

The mastermind behind the attack was Mohammed Reza Ansari, an IRGC commander, officials told the broadcaster.

The double agent said Iran prefers to use criminals – such as himself – rather than its own agents to carry out assassinations abroad for plausible deniability if they are ever caught.

Terror scout jailed over reconnaissance of TV channel

On Friday, an IT worker accused of carrying out “hostile reconnaissance” on Iran International was jailed for three years and six months for collecting information that could be used in a terrorist attack on the channel.

Magomed-Husejn Dovtaev, an Austrian citizen originally from Chechnya, flew from Vienna to London in February, then went straight its headquarters.

Judge Richard Marks KC said those behind Dovtaev’s actions planned an attack on Iran International.

“There is of course no direct evidence in this case as to the precise use to which the video footage, if obtained, would have been put by others, but I am satisfied to the criminal standard of proof that an attack of some sort on Iran International was the plan of those who were behind this," he said.

“It is significant, in my judgment, that following your arrest still and video images were recovered from your phone, taken at the park by another or others, featuring the security arrangements at the entrance gate and outside the building where Iran International were based.

“The unchallenged evidence was that that imagery had been captured on at least two previous occasions and went back in time to the summer of 2022.

“I conclude from that that there was an element of both planning and persistence on the part of those who were behind this, consistent with a planned attack and, moreover, they clearly trusted you to carry out this further reconnaissance.”

Met Commander Dominic Murphy said counter-terrorism police were “very alive” to the threat posed by Iran to potential targets on British soil.

“For a considerable amount of time, we’ve been worried about threats projected into the UK from Iran," he said.

“At this time, we don’t know why Dovtaev was conducting this activity except to say that we believe very strongly that it was for terrorism.

“We don’t know who did it but we have always been concerned about threats projected into the UK, and in this case particularly against Persian language media.

“I’m pleased to say the company are still broadcasting from London but just in a different location now.”

The Met said officers are continuing to deal with threats coming from Iran, which include those against Farsi-language media organisations.

The force will work with “intelligence partners” to counter the threats “either through protective security measures, or disruptive action”, as well as “liaise closely with individuals and organisations affected to give them appropriate safety and security advice”.

“We are not able to go into any further detail in relation to specific threats against specific individuals or organisations, but as we have seen through our work in disrupting other plots, these threats are serious in nature and we are treating them as such,” said the Met.

Fifteen plots “generated from Iran” against individuals or organisations in the UK have been disrupted and police are alive to the threat from the hostile state.

Updated: December 23, 2023, 8:23 AM