On July 22, 2022, the US Government and its Embassy in Albania issued a statement warning of a credible terrorist threat against the July 23-24 Free Iran World Summit, organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). For its part, the NCRI postponed the annual summit on the recommendation of the Albanian Government.
A week earlier, on July 16, the Albanian news outlets reported that SPAK (Structure Combating Corruption and Organized crime, (SPAK) acting on the request of the Special Prosecutor’s Office, had detained and interrogated 20 Iranians for espionage at the behest of the Iranian regime. Albanian Police raided eight apartments, four offices, and several buildings where these individuals resided and engaged in prohibited activities.
The action came after a four-year surveillance of, and investigation into the actions of those detained, which included espionage on Albanian territory on behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), an entity designated by the United States as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), according to EuroNews Albania.
Albanian media identified 11 of those interrogated as Hassan Heyrani, Mehdi Soleimani, Gholamreza Shekari, Mostafa Beheshti, Abdolrahman Mohammadian, Hassan Shahbaz, Sarfaraz Rahimi, Mahmoud Dehghan Gourabi, Mohammad Reza Seddigh, Reza Islami, and Ali Hajari. In addition to the search of their apartments and offices, all their electronic equipment, including mobile phones, computers, tape recorders, and documents were seized.
These individuals were also accused of “receiving money from Iran’s secret services, the Qods Force and the IRGC to obtain information about the MEK in Albania.”
In a report on these development, the NCRI published a report on August 1, pointing to a February 17, 2021 letter by an Iranian national, and a former MEK member, Hadi Sani Khani, to the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, revealing that for four years he had collaborated with the same individuals, especially Hassan Heyrani, who had acted as the ringleader and liaison between these individuals and the Iranian embassy in Tirana. “During this period, I began to collaborate with official agents of the MOIS in the Embassy in Albania…. and MOIS agents, including Ebrahim and Massoud Khodabandeh, Gholamreza Shekari and Ehsan Bidi and later Hassan Heyrani. They used me in demonization, espionage, intelligence gathering, and reconnoitering schemes to carry out terrorist actions against the MEK,” Sani Khani had written.
The NCRI emphasized that “although Albanian media are now reporting on the espionage and organized terrorist activities planned by this ring of ex-MEK employed by Iranian secret services inside Albania, this ring’s outreach to western news outlets in the mainstream media is another more elaborate aspect that requires scrutiny and investigation.”
It added that the anti-MEK ring run out of Tehran and residing in Albania, “was able to dupe or manipulate a dozen journalists from such news media as The Guardian, Foreign Policy, The Independent, Der Spiegel, MSNBC, and even the BBC and the New York Times, as well as others, to publish derogatory and outlandish accusations against the MEK, which is the main opposition movement seeking to overthrow the regime in Tehran, and which the Iranian regime seeks to discredit and demonize internationally to blunt the spotlight the MEK has put on its human rights violations, its secret nuclear weapons programs, its terrorist-sponsoring activities, and its meddling in the Middle East region to foment war and conflict.”
“These operatives told eager and willing “friendly journalists” lies and false stories about the MEK and its leadership and aims, to sow distrust and confusion in the minds of the Western public and to make it difficult for Western policy makers and public figures to support the movement against the Iranian regime,” NCRI wrote.
Subsequent to these developments, four Iranian intelligence agents, Shahin Qajar Mohammadi Fard, Seyed Ahmad Azim Setara, Betool Soltani, and Afshin Kalantari, who resided in the UK and Germany travelled to Albania on July 29, to continue the terrorist mission. Aware of their ties to the interrogated agents, Albanian police, and airport authorities, however, denied the four entry and expelled them to their countries of origin
Commenting on these developments, Shahin Gobadi, MEK’s Paris-based media spokesman, told the EU Reporter, “Now, with the recent revelations about Albanian law enforcement agencies investigating these agents, it should be crystal clear that they fed the mainstream media with lies and propaganda to denigrate and set the stage for terrorist plots against the Iranian opposition, which the regime views as an existential threat.”
Gobadi added, “It should be of concern to all reputable media and news editors how the Iranian regime is using propaganda against the MEK developed over a span of more than two decades to gain coverage for its disinformation campaign against its opponents.”
Underscoring “the imperative of revoking the passports, asylum and citizenship of Iranian regime’s mercenaries in Europe,” Gobadi called for the prosecution, punishment, and expulsion of agents of the MOIS and the terrorist Quds Force from European countries, including Germany, France and the UK.