Albanian police search empty Iranian embassy after papers burned

Following Albania's Prime Minister Rama's instruction to Iranian diplomats and staff to close the embassy and leave the country, Albanian counter-terrorism police searched the empty Iranian embassy.

 Personnel of the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran can be seen through a closed door, as Albania cuts ties with Iran and orders diplomats to leave over cyberattack, in Tirana, Albania, September 7, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS/FLORION GOGA)
Personnel of the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran can be seen through a closed door, as Albania cuts ties with Iran and orders diplomats to leave over cyberattack, in Tirana, Albania, September 7, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/FLORION GOGA)

Iranian diplomats burned documents in the early morning on Thursday hours before they were to leave the country after Albania cut diplomatic relations with Iran, accusing the Islamic Republic of a cyberattack in July.

In a rare video address on Wednesday, Albania's Prime Minister Edi Rama said he had ordered Iranian diplomats and staff to close the embassy and leave the country within 24 hours.

Albanian counter-terrorism police searched the empty Iranian embassy in Tirana on Thursday, hours after Iranian diplomats burned papers inside the premises following the severing of diplomatic ties over a cyberattack.

The police, wearing masks and helmets and carrying automatic rifles, entered the building - situated just 200 meters (yards) from Rama's office - after two cars with diplomatic plates had left, a Reuters reporter saw.

Thirty minutes later, the police were still inside.

Rama said the July cyberattack has "threatened to paralyze public services, erase digital systems and hack into state records, steal government intranet electronic communication and stir chaos and insecurity in the country."

A Reuters witness saw a man from inside the embassy throwing papers in a rusted barrel, with flames illuminating the walls of the three-story embassy.

Washington, Albania's closest ally, also blamed Iran for the attack and promised to "take further action to hold Iran accountable for actions that threaten the security of a US ally."

Illustrative photo of a cyberattack.  (credit: Wikimedia Commons)Illustrative photo of a cyberattack. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Tehran has strongly condemned Tirana's decision to cut its diplomatic ties calling as "baseless claims" Albania's reasons for the move.

History of tense relations between Albania and Iran

Albania and Iran have had tense relations since 2014 when Albania accepted some 3,000 members of the exiled opposition group People's Mujahideen Organization of Iran, also known by its Farsi name Mujahideen-e-Khalq, who have settled in a camp near Durres, the country's main port.

Days after the cyberattack Tirana-based media reported that hackers have published personal data of the opposition members that were saved on Albania's state computers such as personal, social and security numbers, names and photos.

On Thursday morning, it appeared calm outside the embassy in Tirana located just 200 meters (yards) away from the prime minister's office.

A black Audi with diplomatic car plates and darkened windows were seen going in and out as a police officer guarded the entrance.