license photo” alt=”Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has severed diplomatic relations with Iran after a cyber attack. File Photo by Peter Foley/UPI | license photo“/>
20 September (UPI) — A devastating 13-page report by the Microsoft Detection and Response Team has revealed that cyberattacks this year that crippled government security services and institutions in Albania were the work of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Albania has been a member of NATO since 2009 and immediately secured broad support from NATO allies around the world, who joined in condemning Iran for the reckless attack. The Microsoft report traced the origin of the cyberattacks straight to the Ministry of Intelligence and Security in Tehran and highlighted how the mullahs’ regime targeted the Albanian government for its anger at the presence of Ashraf 3, the headquarters of the Iranian resistance had organization of the People’s Mojahedin of Iran, MEK, in Durres County, 19 miles west of the capital Tirana.
The Albanian government agreed to take in more than 3,000 Iranian dissidents when they were flown to Tirana in 2016 after repeated deadly attacks on their camps – Ashraf 1 and 2 in Iraq, with the support and incitement of the Iranian regime. Built by the MEK on previously vacant farmland, Ashraf 3 has grown into a small town. A major summit in Ashraf 3 attended by invited political leaders from America, Europe and many other countries was canceled by the Albanian government at the last moment in July when terrorist threats were exposed and the cyber attack took place.
Following the Microsoft revelations, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama severed ties with Iran and ordered the Iranian Embassy closed, giving diplomatic and security officials 24 hours to leave the country. Rama said: “The government has decided to end diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran with immediate effect. This extreme response is fully proportionate to the severity and risk of the cyberattack, which threatened to cripple public services, wipe digital systems and hack into state records, steal the government intranet’s electronic communications, and wreak havoc and insecurity across the country. ”
Several MOIS agents and their Albanian collaborators were arrested and others were denied entry to the country. The Albanian government’s decisive action was widely praised by the West, with America even sanctioning the MOIS and its leadership, while NATO and the European Union condemned the attack and backed Albania’s move.
The closure of the Iranian embassy in Albania followed the earlier expulsion of the Iranian ambassador and first secretary in December 2018 after a planned bomb attack on the MEK was uncovered by the Albanian security service. The terrorist plot mirrored the arrest of an Iranian diplomat in Europe in the summer of 2018 for attempting to bomb a mass rally by Iranian opposition supporters in Villepinte, near Paris.
Assadollah Assadi was a senior MOIS agent. He used the guise of being a diplomat at the Iranian embassy in Vienna to plan a terrorist bombing that would have caused carnage on European soil and potentially killed hundreds of men, women and children. Evidence from Belgian prosecutors showed how Assadi allegedly brought the professionally assembled 550-gram TATP bomb in his diplomatic bag on a commercial flight from Tehran to Vienna and passed it along with an envelope containing 22,000 euros to two co-conspirators. The court in Antwerp was told Assadi taught them how to light and detonate the device.
A third co-conspirator was posted as a lookout at the Villepinte rally. All four were sentenced to long prison terms in Belgium.
The trial of Iranian diplomat Assadi was just the tip of a massive terrorist iceberg. The theocratic regime has used its embassies as terror cells and bomb factories for decades, carrying out bombings, assassinations, kidnappings and cyber attacks around the world. Revelations by the US government this summer that the Iranian regime had planned to assassinate President Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo showed once again how the Islamic Republic looks like a dangerous, wounded beast is that flails to preserve its existence.
According to the US Department of Justice, Shahram Poursafi, an agent with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, was offered $300,000 to “eliminate” Bolton. Poursafi is still at large.
But while the West has congratulated Rama on his tough stance on the mullahs’ criminal regime, the Belgian government has bizarrely signed a new deal with Iran to facilitate prisoner exchanges. Apparently, prisoners of Iranian nationality in Belgium and prisoners of Belgian nationality in Iran are exchanged and allowed to serve their sentences in their respective home countries. The intent of this deal, from the Iranian perspective, will clearly be the release of Assadi and his three co-conspirators, who will be treated as heroes and potentially promoted if they return to Iran.
Their release from prison in Belgium would completely mock European justice and send the clearest signal to the Iranian regime that they can carry out terrorist attacks in Europe with impunity. They might even be encouraged to take more European hostages to use as bargaining chips in future prisoner exchanges.
This scandalous treaty and prisoner swap must be stopped. Indeed, the EU should take a leaf out of Albania’s book and order the closure of Iranian embassies and the expulsion of their diplomatic staff and MOIS agents. The exposure of the Iranian regime’s embassies as terror centers will ring the death knell for faltering efforts to restore the deeply flawed Iran nuclear deal signed by US President Barack Obama in 2015 and unilaterally abandoned by Trump in 2018. Desperate efforts to revive the deal have been spearheaded by EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Josep Borrell, who has been criticized by many as an arch-appeaser of the mullahs’ regime.
In view of the events in Albania, Borrell could be forced to rethink.
Struan Stevenson is coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change. He was a Member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), President of Parliament’s delegation for relations with Iraq (2009-14) and Chair of the Intergroup of Friends of a Free Iran (2004-14). He is an International Middle East Lecturer and President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association.
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