Pressure rises in UK for IRGC terror status after videos of student event leaked

Iranian generals spoke to students at Islamic centre event during which 'death to Israel' was chanted

The Kanoon Towhid Islamic centre in London, where an event commemorating top Iranian military commander Maj Gen Qassem Suleimani was held. Photo: Google
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Videos of speeches given by Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps generals to British students has led to calls for it to be labelled a terrorist organisation by the UK.

The videos, seen by the BBC, show two live-streamed speeches by former and active commanders of Iran's IRGC.

The other shows an in-person event commemorating top Iranian military commander Maj Gen Qassem Suleimani, who was killed in a US air strike in Iraq four years ago. During the event, chants of “death to Israel” could be heard.

The question of whether to sanction the IRGC, which has been linked to assassination plots in the UK, was raised at the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday by chairwoman Alicia Kearns, who has advocated such a move.

But the committee also heard from former foreign secretary Jack Straw, who told MPs he was not in favour of proscribing the IRGC as a terrorist organisation.

He said that while he “understood the argument”, the powers of the Terrorism Act 2000, which he introduced, “were not designed to proscribe states”.

IRGC generals working with student groups is incredibly concerning
Alicia Kearns, House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman

Mr Straw said the IRGC is “not just another group” but a “fundamental part of the Iranian regime” and the “most powerful institution” of the government.

“So a decision to proscribe the IRGC carries with it very large implications and I think, though I can’t be certain, that it would almost be bound to involve a decision, de facto, to break diplomatic relations with Iran,” he said.

“Those making the decision need to be aware of what their doing.”

He was asked by Conservative MP Ranil Jayawardena how the UK should “respond today” to the IRGC threat.

Mr Straw said the issue should be dealt with in the same way the UK deals with Russia: without proscribing its armed forces.

“Even if we were to proscribe the IRGC, it wouldn’t stop them because none of these things are done overtly,” he said.

Ms Kearns countered that it was her understanding that the UK independent adviser on terrorism had said that proscribing states was a political decision and not related to the legislation.

“Only last night, we saw a report that the IRGC has been holding events with British student organisations across the UK,” she said.

Ms Kearns said that while the “mere words” they used were not enough for the UK to act under terrorism legislation, nevertheless, “IRGC generals working with student groups is incredibly concerning”.

“So surely proscription would have some sort ability for us to deal with those who support, finance, organise around the IRGC and the reality is the IRGC probably is the number one sponsor of terrorism that we are currently facing in the UK and in Europe,” she said.

The online events were promoted by the Islamic Students Association of Britain, and the in-person event held at the Kanoon Towhid Islamic centre in west London is used by the group as a meeting place.

During an Instagram Live even from Iran in September 2020, IRGC commander Hossein Yekta said universities had become “the battlefront” and urged students listening to become “soft-war officers”, a term used to describe recruits to its ideological battle with the West.

In other footage from January 2021, the IRGC's Gen Saeed Ghasemi compared Maj Gen Suleimani's death to the Hollywood film Terminator 2, saying that after the he was attacked, the broken pieces would come back together, stronger than before.

In his talk, Gen Ghasemi also falsely claimed the Holocaust was “a lie and a fake” and said British students could “bring an end to the life of the oppressors and occupiers, Zionists and Jews across the world”.

The video was shared with the BBC by US-based campaign group United Against Nuclear Iran.

Kanoon Towhid is owned by the Al-Tawheed (TUCF) Charitable Trust, which was already under investigation by the Charity Commission after earlier reports of the event honouring Maj Gen Suleimani.

“We can confirm that we have an ongoing compliance case into the Al-Tawheed (TUCF) Charitable Trust and are continuing to engage with its trustees,” a representative told The National.

In a statement, the Islamic Students Associations said all its activities are “clearly lawful” and that it was being “singled out”.

“Islamic Students Associations is an independent group led by student volunteers with no affiliations to any entity, government or organisation anywhere in the world, with a rich history of providing peaceful academic, scientific, educational and cultural activities for over 57 years,” it said.

“It respects people from all backgrounds, faiths and communities and has a rich history of interfaith, collaborations and interprofessional events. The association does not support or endorse anyone that does not share these values.”

Updated: January 23, 2024, 6:50 PM