LONDON: Iran has become one of the biggest threats to UK national security, the British home secretary warned on Sunday.
Suella Braverman expressed concern over reports that Iranian intelligence agents are recruiting members of criminal gangs to take out regime opponents, with a Home Office source telling The Sunday Times that the threat from Tehran “worries us the most.”
In February, Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Matt Jukes said five schemes by Iran to assassinate, kidnap or intimidate people in the UK had been stopped in the first few months of 2023.
“It’s a big issue because they are getting much more aggressive and their appetite is increasing,” the source said.
“They are very defensive to anyone challenging their regime and just want to stamp it out. They are increasing their agitation.”
According to The Sunday Times’ report, the regime in Tehran has close links with the Islamic Students Association of Britain, which is based at a former Methodist church in west London. Its former chairman, Mohammad Hussain Ataee, attended a conference in Tehran where he met Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the report added.
According to an investigation by the Jewish Chronicle, the students’ association last week hosted online discussions seen by thousands of viewers between senior commanders from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Muslim students at British universities, where eight IRGC representatives are alleged to have made speeches containing antisemitic statements.
In response, the association said: “All our activities are clearly lawful. It would appear that you are singling out yet another Muslim group for some kind of inquisition simply because they have chosen to exercise their right to freedom of speech, freedom of thought and freedom to practice their religion, rights that are established in both domestic and international law.”
The UK government last month decided against proscribing the IRGC as a terrorist organization for fear of permanently harming diplomatic relations, but announced plans for a new regime of sanctions against Iran, including expanded powers to target key decision makers in Tehran.
The new powers allow British ministers to sanction individuals for activities within the UK, not just in Iran.
But the UK government has come under pressure to follow its partners in the US and Canada in labeling the IRGC a terrorist organization.
“(It’s important) our domestic security needs are given proper weight,” former MI5 chief Lord Evans of Weardale said.
“Perceived diplomatic interests have sometimes been given precedence in the past. For instance, with regard to Russian activists, and we shouldn’t repeat that mistake.”
Alicia Kearns, chairman of the foreign affairs committee, said: “The proscription of the IRGC would allow us to prosecute those working on its behalf to sow discord, incite hatred and support terror activities and assassinations on British soil.
“There is more and more evidence of the IRGC’s campaigns of transnational repression — we cannot afford not to act.”