In the wake of the reports that two men have been detained in Greece, accused of plotting attacks on a Jewish site, it is worth looking at the broader context of Iran’s threats throughout Europe. The following are ten recent plots by Iran in Europe.
Iran uses agents, as well as proxy groups such as Hezbollah to carry out wide-ranging activity and plots. These appear to have increased in the last several years and there is now more focus in Europe on the activities of groups linked to Iran's regime.
March 2023: The Greece plot
The most recent plot linked to Iran is the alleged plan to attack a Jewish site in Greece. The plot involved at least two men who have been described as being of Pakistani origin. The men were not initially named by authorities but the reports said that the attack was considered imminent and that it would have caused loss of life. The suspects were charged with terrorism offenses and a third man is also wanted. The men are alleged to be part of a wider overseas network.
Greece’s anti-terrorism police division and National Intelligence Service were involved in preventing the attack.
“The operation demonstrates that the country’s security authorities maintain a high state of readiness for all Greeks and all visitors to our country,” Public Order Minister Takis Theodorikakos said in a tweet.
November 2022: Iran’s plots against journalists in the UK
Iran was accused of targeting two journalists in the UK. The plot was apparently part of a plan to assassinate the journalists who were employed by what was then the London-based news channel Iran International which is critical of Iran’s regime.
“Two of our British-Iranian journalists have, in recent days, been notified of an increase in the threats to them,” Iran International said at the time. “The Metropolitan Police have now formally notified both journalists that these threats represent an imminent, credible and significant risk to their lives and those of their families.”
By February 2023, reports in the Guardian said that British Police and MI5 had identified 15 plots by Iran against dissidents in the UK. Most of these plots were targeting Iran International.
Another report noted that “Iran has plotted to kidnap or kill at least 10 British nationals or UK-based individuals perceived as enemies of the regime this year, Britain’s domestic spy chief said,” according to NBC.
May and July 2022: Cyberattacks on Albania
Iran targeted Albania with cyberattacks in May and July of 2022, and in September, Albania cut diplomatic ties with Iran. The second cyber attack targeted a government website that included important information about citizens.
US and Albanian investigators said Iran’s behavior was "reckless and irresponsible,” and NATO and the US condemned the attacks. Reports said that Iran may have been targeting dissidents in Albania and that the cyber attacks were part of that plan. The US sanctioned an Iranian agency for its role in the attack.
June 2022: plots in Turkey
Turkey detained five Iranians who were accused of planning attacks on Israelis in the country. At the time, then-prime minister Yair Lapid said that “the lives of Israeli citizens have been saved in recent weeks thanks to security and diplomatic cooperation between Israel and Turkey. These efforts are ongoing.”
He also said that “we’re not only talking about the murder of innocent Israeli tourists but also a clear violation of Turkish sovereignty by Iranian terror. We are confident that Turkey knows how to respond to the Iranians on this matter.”
The plot was alleged to center around Istanbul. More Iranian agents were detained in July 2022. Several plots were reportedly foiled overall.
October 2021: The Cyprus plot
Iran was accused of being behind a plot to kill Israelis in Cyprus. Police arrested a man who was said to have been hired to carry out the killings. At the time, then-prime minister Naftali Bennett’s spokesman Matan Sidi said the attempted murder was an Iranian terrorist attack and that the assassin was targeting Israeli businessmen. Iran denied the allegations.
The man who was detained was described as a 38-year old Azeri who was using a Russian passport. He was detained in Nicosia after crossing from Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus.
September 2018: Plots in Denmark
Iran was accused of being behind an attempted attack on an Arab dissident group in Denmark who accused Iran of plotting an assassination. Iran denied the allegations but Denmark recalled its ambassador over the plot. The plot led to a major shutdown of highways in Denmark in September 2018.
A Norwegian citizen of Iranian background was detained in Sweden in connection to the plot.
July 2018: Bomb plot in France
An Iranian diplomat was convicted in 2021 of a plot to bomb a French rally in 2018 where dissidents had gathered.
According to the BBC “Assadollah Assadi, 49, who worked at the Iranian embassy in Vienna, was given a 20-year jail term by the court in Antwerp in Belgium…Three others were also convicted. They were arrested during a joint operation by German, French and Belgian police.”
A report at the time noted that thousands had attended the rally including Rudy Giuliani.
According to the BBC, “France blamed Iran's intelligence ministry for the planned attack and responded by freezing the assets of two senior Iranian officials.”
Similar to reports about the cyber attacks in Albania, the plot in France was apparently directed by Iran against the political arm of the opposition group Muhajideen-a-Khalq. The group that was targeted is called the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
Austria stripped immunity of an Iranian diplomat accused of involvement in the plot. Five other suspects were arrested in Belgium and France. Belgian authorities said they had arrested a couple with 500 grams of explosives.
2019: Plots in Holland
In 2019 the Netherlands recalled its ambassador from Iran over alleged plots. Iran expelled two Dutch diplomats as well. Holland accused Iran of being linked to targeted attacks on two dissidents in 2015 and 2017. Foreign Minister Stef Blok said that the country had decided to recall its ambassador over the allegations. One of the dissidents was linked to an Arab minority group in Iran.
Storage of explosives in various countries
In September 2020, several European countries denied claims by the US that Hezbollah had stored explosives and bomb-making materials in Europe. The US said that the stored explosives could be used to "conduct major terror attacks whenever its masters in Tehran deem it necessary.” According to the US claims at the time Hezbollah was accused of moving ammonium nitrate through several countries, including Greece, Italy, Belgium, France, Spain and Switzerland. Ammonium nitrate was behind the massive explosion in the port of Beirut.
Hezbollah was also accused in 2019 of stockpiling explosives near London. According to a report in The Telegraph, the British had foiled a 2015 plot by Hezbollah in which it had stockpiled some
three tons of ammonium nitrate. The plot was not revealed to the public at the time.
July 2012: Bulgaria bus bombing
In July 2012, a bus bombing in Burgas killed five Israelis and one Bulgarian. 32 people were injured. The suicide bombing targeted a bus that carried 42 Israelis. The bomb was later identified as an ammonium nitrate-based explosive. The attack was linked to Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran. Iran and Hezbollah denied involvement.
“There are clear signs that say Hezbollah is behind the Burgas bombing,” then-Bulgarian interior minister Tsvetlin Yochev said in 2013. Later evidence said that the bomber was likely a Lebanese-French citizen. Two other people were sought in relation to the attack and Bulgaria asked Lebanon to extradite them.
They were tried and convicted in absentia in 2020.