Anniversary of Mykonos Restaurant Plot Highlights Need for Vigilance Against Renewed Iranian Terror Threat

The Trump Administration has stepped up pressure on European governments to take a harder line against continued business engagement with Iran since its May decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal. In the face of mounting political unrest and economic strains, Iran has only doubled down in its malevolent machinations worldwide. Indeed, at the time it needs European trade and investment the most, Iran has resumed terrorist operations on the European continent at a pace not seen since the 1990s.

In March, Albanian authorities arrested two suspected Iranian operatives who were caught in the act of surveilling a site where exiled Iranian opposition figures from the Mujahideen-e Khalq were set to hold a Persian Nowruz  celebration. In June, the Netherlands expelled two Iranian diplomats, a move which appears connected to the November 2017 assassination of an Iranian Arab activist in the Hague. In early July, authorities in France, Belgium, and Germany thwarted a planned Iranian terror attack targeting the Paris convention of the National Council of Resistance in Iran, the political wing of the MEK. Two Iranian suspects were intercepted in Belgium carrying 500 grams of explosives to the convention. Assadollah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat – believed to be Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security’s (MOIS) station chief in Vienna – was arrested in Germany on suspicion of having contacts with the would-be bombers.

The uptick in Iranian terrorist activity indicates that Iran is returning to a long-dormant practice of murdering regime detractors overseas. From the late 1980s until 1999, Iran’s primary intelligence service, MOIS, led an assassination campaign targeting dissidents. According to the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, Iranian intelligence agents have been linked to the assassination of at least “162 monarchist, nationalist, and democratic expatriate activists” in 19 different countries. A detailed accounting of the known victims of Iran’s international assassination campaign and its perpetrators can be found here.

September 17th marks the 26th anniversary of the most “daring and public” overseas Iranian assassination plot, the elaborately planned assassination of four Kurdish democracy activists at the Mykonos Restaurant in Berlin, Germany on September 17, 1992. The Mykonos plot was carried out by a Hezbollah cell acting under the orders of the Iranian government and with direct participation by MOIS operatives.

Abdolraham Banihashemi, an MOIS operative trained in Lebanon, led the “attack group” behind the Mykonos assassination and served as one of the two gunmen. The other gunman, Abbas Rayhel, and many of the co-conspirators in the attack were Hezbollah members based in Germany, several of whom had received training at an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) center in Rasht, Iran. The MOIS was instrumental in the logistics of the attack, conducting surveillance of the targets and securing the weapons and silencers used. During the attack, Banihashemi and Rayhel fired 30 shots. The primary target was Dr. Sadegh Sharafkandi, secretary-general of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI), Iran’s primary Kurdish opposition group. Sharafkandi and three of his colleagues were killed in the attack.

Following Germany’s investigation into the plot, the federal prosecutor issued an arrest warrant for former Intelligence Minister Ali Fallahian for ordering the attack. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati would also be implicated for their roles in ordering and approving the plot by the German judge presiding over the trial of five of the participants in the attack.

Rising international condemnation and pressure from countries where Iranian intelligence operatives had carried out assassinations led the Islamic Republic to abandon the practice by 1999. Since that time, Iran’s external intelligence apparatus shifted its focus to harassment, intimidation, and delegitimization of dissidents abroad. The resumption of terrorist and assassination plots against opposition figures in Europe and beyond is a worrying trend that signals Iran increasingly feels it has nothing to lose for murdering its opponents, even on European soil. The anniversary of the Mykonos assassination plot is an opportunity for Europe to recognize the seriousness of the Iranian threat. European governments should address Iran’s increasing lawlessness by discouraging European companies from pursuing trade and investment with Tehran and by designating the totality of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, closing the loophole which allows the group to fundraise and organize politically on the continent.

Jordan Steckler is a Research Analyst at United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI). Follow him on Twitter @JordanESteckler.