Citing two unidentified senior US intelligence officials, the Associated Press recently reported that the US National Security Agency (NSA) has intercepted communications in January which exposed emerging terrorist plots from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). According to the report, in January the IRGC discussed carrying out a “USS Cole-style attacks” (a reference to the October 2000 al Qaeda suicide bombing of a US guided missile destroyer which killed 17 American sailors) on Fort McNair to kill General Joseph M. Martin, the vice chief of staff for the US Army.
According to the intelligence officials, the recent threat was one example ofthe Iranian regime’s apparent commitment to seekingrevenge for the January 2020 killing of Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the IRGC’s terrorist Quds Force. A number of senior officials of the regime, including the current commander of the Quds force, Esmail Qaani, have already threatened to carry out terrorist attacks on US soil for the same purpose.
“So long as there is a man around the world, he is ready to punish the cowards who did this,” Qaani said on January 1, 2021, adding, “With this crime you have committed, you have created another objective for all the free people in the world, and rest assured that someone, even from inside your house, will respond to your crime.”
He also tweeted: “We warn the US President, the head of the CIA, the Secretary of Defense, the US Secretary of State and other US officials involved in the assassination of Martyr Soleimani that they must learn the secret lifestyle of Salman Rushdie because the Islamic Republic will avenge Martyr Soleimani’s blood that was unjustly shed.”
The Fort McNair plot cannot be dismissed as mere talk or bravado.
From the assassination of Iran’s last pre-revolution Prime Minister in Paris in 1991to the bombing of a Jewish community center in Argentina in 1994 to many more such attacks in foreign cities, Iran’s regime has consistently carried out extraterritorial terror attacks and assassinations against its enemies.
In October 2011, the Iranian regime plotted to kill the Saudi Ambassador in Washington DCby bombing a restaurant that he frequented. The Iranian agent in charge of that plot, a permanent resident of the US, had planned the terrorist operation in cooperation with a Mexican cartel. He pleaded guilty and confessed that he was working at the behest of the IRGC and had received approximately $100,000 as a down payment.
In June 2018, multiple European authorities thwarted a plot to set off explosives at an annual international gathering in support of National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), near Paris. In addition to tens of thousands of expatriates, the event was also attended by hundreds of political dignitaries from the US, Europe, Canada and throughout the world. The investigations established that the NCRI’s President-elet, Maryam Rajavi, the keynote speaker of the event, was the main target of the plot, whichcould have been one of the bloodiest terrorist events in European history and would have most likely claimed a large number of Western lives.
The mastermind of the plot was a senior Iranian diplomat who was acting as Iran’s Third Counselor in its Embassy in Vienna. Assadollah Assadi was a veteran officer of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and had activated two MOIS sleeper cells for the operation. He personally brought the explosives – 500 grams of TATP and a detonator – on a commercial flight from Tehran and handed them over to the would-be bombers, an Iranian-Belgian couple, in a Pizza Hut in Luxembourg.
Assadi and his three accomplices were arrested in Belgium, Paris and Germany and were put on trial in Belgium last November and convicted in early February. Assadi received a 20-year sentence for plotting to commit terrorist murder and still faces additional charges in Germany, where his arrest took place. Assadi was by no means the first Iranian diplomat to come under suspicion of terrorism, but he was the first to actually face prosecution for it in a European court.
That arrest yielded a substantial amount of evidence regarding Assadi’s further activities in Europe. In the years leading up to the 2018 terror plot, he had apparently cultivated a network of assets spanning at least 11 European countries and had delivered cash payments to many of them.
It is safe to assume that some of them were involved in gathering intelligence for the MOIS in Europe that could be used for future terrorist plots.
It would be naive and dangerous to write off the threats from Tehran as mere propaganda. Prudence and vigilance dictate that counterterrorism and counter-espionage activities against Tehran have to be intensified, while its network in the West should be dismantled and prosecuted. But that is not enough.The West must also put policies into place that will continue a trend of accountability and challenge the Iranian regime over its past and ongoing behaviors.