Iran tried to kidnap or kill at least 10 people in the UK - MI5 chief

The MI5 chief added that the ongoing protests sweeping Iran could signal "profound change."

 People demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament during a protest against the Islamic regime of Iran following the death of Mahsa Amini, in central London, Britain, October 8, 2022.  (photo credit: REUTERS/HENRY NICHOLLS)
People demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament during a protest against the Islamic regime of Iran following the death of Mahsa Amini, in central London, Britain, October 8, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/HENRY NICHOLLS)

Iran has tried to kidnap or kill at least 10 UK-based individuals since January, the director-general of the MI5 security service, Ken McCallum, said on Wednesday.

"Iran projects threat to the UK directly, through its aggressive intelligence services. At its sharpest, this includes ambitions to kidnap or even kill British or UK-based individuals perceived as enemies of the regime. We have seen at least ten such potential threats since January alone," said McCallum in an annual threat update.

"We work at pace with domestic and international partners to disrupt this completely unacceptable activity. The Foreign Secretary made clear to the Iranian regime just last week that the UK will not tolerate intimidation or threats to life towards journalists, or any individual, living in the UK."

McCallum added that the ongoing protests sweeping Iran could signal "profound change," but added that the trajectory is still "uncertain."

"For now, we see the regime resorting to violence to silence critics.  An Iran that, with its proxies, remains a profoundly destabilizing actor in its region and beyond. An Iran providing support to Russia, including by supplying the drones inflicting misery in Ukraine," said the MI5 chief.

 MI5 Director General Ken McCallum is photographed in London, Britain October 14, 2020 (credit: UK Government/Handout via REUTERS) MI5 Director General Ken McCallum is photographed in London, Britain October 14, 2020 (credit: UK Government/Handout via REUTERS)

British journalists, activists threatened by Iran

British media has reported in recent weeks that hundreds of journalists and political activists in the UK have been warned by police that they may be targeted by Iran due to their opposition to the Islamic Republic.

On Sunday, London-based Iranian journalist Potkin Azarmehr told The Sunday Times that he had been told that Iran has “changed its modus operandi” and was potentially hiring criminals overseas to carry out attacks. 

“These are not necessarily trained agents but professional hitmen may be paid to carry out assassinations,” said Azarmehr. “I was told it could be as simple as standing at a Tube station and somebody pushes you in front of a train. Or it could be a manufactured road rage incident. These could be people paid by the Iranian state.”

Last week, the Telegraph reported that an Iranian hit squad was operating in London and had been deployed to murder two British journalists working for a Farsi-language television station.

The recent heightened alert around Iranian threats came after a “hostile Iranian surveillance team” was spotted outside the homes and offices of the channel's senior journalists, according to the report.

Last week, Iran's Intelligence Minister Esmail Khatib issued a threat against the UK, claiming that the country was leading “propaganda” efforts and feeding the ongoing protests sweeping Iran since the killing of Mahsa Amini by Iranian “morality police.”

Khatib complained that the US, UK, Israel and Saudi Arabia had conducted “the greatest ‘influence operation’ on a country taken to destabilize that country and create unrest in it through hybrid warfare.”

“Unlike England, we will never support acts of terrorism and the creation of insecurity in other countries,” said Khatib. “However, we also have no obligation to prevent insecurity in those countries either. Therefore, England will pay for the measures it has taken to try to make Iran insecure.”

Iran International warns of ‘credible threats’ to journalists

Volant Media, the parent company of Iran International, reported on Monday that there were “credible threats” made by the IRGC against journalists working for Iran International in the UK.

“Two of our British-Iranian journalists have, in recent days, been notified of an increase in the threats to them. 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. Other members of our staff have also been informed directly by the Metropolitan Police of separate threats,” said the company.