An attempt to target the United Arab Emirates Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, earlier this month may have been part of a larger plot by Iran to target Israeli, American and Emirati embassies in Africa, according to The New York Times.
The official Ethiopian statement on the arrest of 15 people did not mention who was behind the plot or the motive, but a 16th arrest in Sweden brought in Ahmed Ismail, believed to be the ringleader of the plot, the Times reported.
The plot was arranged by Iran, with Iranian intelligence activating a sleeper cell in Addis Ababa last fall with orders to gather intelligence on the three embassies, US and Israeli officials told the Times.
The plot was reportedly meant to serve as revenge for the US assassination of former Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani and the alleged Israeli assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Israel has not officially confirmed its involvement in the assassination.
Rear Adm. Heidi K. Berg, US Africa Command’s director of intelligence, said Iran was behind the plot and that Ethiopia and Sweden collaborated on thwarting the attacks, citing Western intelligence sources, the Times reported.
A spokeswoman for the Iranian Embassy in Addis Ababa denied the report.
“These are baseless allegations only provoked by the Zionist regime’s malicious media,” she said. “Neither Ethiopia nor the Emirates said anything about Iranian interference in these issues.”
A spokesman for the Ethiopian police declined to say why Ethiopia did not blame Iran, but several diplomats told the Times that Ethiopia tends to avoid getting publicly involved in delicate issues involving major powers.
According to Ethiopia’s National Intelligence and Security Service, a second group of plotters was preparing to hit the Emirati Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan. A Sudanese official confirmed the report.
The arrests were also linked by a US defense official to a failed Iranian plot to kill the US ambassador to South Africa, which was reported by Politico last September, according to the Times.
The plot may have been an attempt to send a message to the Biden administration that “unless they reach a deal with Iran quickly, this is what they get: a dangerous neighborhood,” Farzin Nadimi, a specialist on the Iranian armed forces with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told the Times.
A planned Iranian terrorist attack on Israeli, Emirati and American embassies in a country in east Africa was thwarted in January, KAN News reported earlier this month, without naming the country.
Iran reportedly had sent agents to a country in east Africa to collect intelligence on the Israeli, American and UAE embassies to explore carrying out attacks against them. Some of the agents were European citizens with Iranian dual citizenship.
Some of the agents were arrested in the African country and in other countries, KAN reported at the time.
Iran has been behind a series of attempts to target Israeli and other foreign officials and institutions in Africa and around the world in the past.
The KAN report came just days after an explosion occurred next to the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi in January. No injuries were reported in the incident. A letter found at the site reportedly warned that “the explosion is just a trailer for what’s coming.”
A previously unknown terrorist organization called Jaish-ul-Hind, which is affiliated with Iran, took responsibility for the attack.
Tensions remain high in the region in the aftermath of the assassinations of Soleimani and Fakhrizadeh, as well as concerns that the US may return to the nuclear deal with Iran.
Last month, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi said he had ordered operational plans to be readied to strike Iran’s nuclear program if necessary.