Man caught with pistol and ammunition is Turkish spy, German prosecutor says

MIT Turkey

GERMAN AUTHORITIES ARE TREATING the arrest of a Turkish citizen, who was found with a pistol and 200 rounds of ammunition, “as a case of suspected espionage on behalf of the Turkish state” according to reports. The case was revealed late last week by Germany’s Federal Prosecutor General, Peter Frank, who said that the suspected spy was arrested at a hotel in the western German city of Düsseldorf during a raid that took place on September 17.

Local reports said the hotel raid was carried out by members of the Spezialeinsatzkommando (SEK), a police tactical unit, who stormed the building and used an armored vehicle to barricade its front door. They emerged from the hotel with the suspect, who has been identified in German media reports only as “Ali D.”, a Turkish citizen. He is now under investigation for collecting information on alleged supporters of the so-called Gülen movement. The Gülen movement consists of supporters of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, who runs a global network of schools, charities and businesses from his home in the United States. The government of Turkey has designated Gülen’s group a terrorist organization and claims it was behind the failed 2016 coup against Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The Federal Prosecutor General’s office has said that Ali D. was acting “on behalf of and under the guidance” of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), which is the state intelligence agency of Turkey. It also claims that “sufficient evidence” has emerged to establish this case as a “counterintelligence matter”. In his statement to the press, Frank said Ali D. was found in possession of a pistol, 200 rounds of ammunition and documents containing names and other personal information of alleged supporters of the Gülen movement. Some reports suggest that the police has linked this case with a suspected planned attack against Gülen supporters in Düsseldorf and Cologne.

The investigation of Ali D. has now officially been moved from the Düsseldorf Prosecutor’s office to the office of the Federal Prosecutor General.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 October 2021 | Permalink

German spy services face criticism for failing to anticipate swift Taliban victory

BND Germany

THE PRINCIPAL EXTERNAL INTELLIGENCE service of Germany, known as the Federal Intelligence Service, or BND, is facing growing criticism for allegedly failing to anticipate the swift ascendance of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Critics from every political faction have described the situation in Afghanistan as an “impending disaster” for German interests, and have questioned the BND’s effectiveness and competence.

In a statement to the Bundestag this past June, Germany’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Heiko Maas, insisted that it was “inconceivable” that the Taliban “would, within just a few weeks, be able to seize power” in Afghanistan. In subsequent weeks, other leader members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet echoed Maas’s statement. It now appears that, as German diplomats and intelligence officers were forced to leave hastily the Central Asian country, they left behind numerous “people employed in Germany’s interests”, analysis to the German national broadcaster, Deutsche Welle (DW).

In his according of the BND’s performance in the Afghan situation, DW journalist Marcel Fürstenau quotes former BND intelligence officer Gerhard Conrad, who claims that the spy agency lacked sources on the ground. Others, including University of London researcher Jan Koehler, tell Fürstenau that the German intelligence services failed to grasp the broader dynamics of Afghan society, which are permeated by “a lack of trust among the Afghan security forces in their own government”, and led them to surrender to the Taliban en masse.

The possibility of an official parliamentary investigation into the performance of the BND is now a strong prospect in the coming weeks, says Fürstenau. He adds that that several senior members of Chancellor Merkel’s government would have to testify behind closed doors during a probe. The soon-to-retire ‘iron lady’ of German politics may even have to testify after she leaves office, he concludes.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 August 2021 | Permalink

Alleged spy at British embassy in Berlin aroused suspicion by not using bank account

British embassy BerlinAn employee of the British embassy in Berlin, who was arrested last week on suspicion of spying for Russia, drew the attention of the authorities after he stopped using his bank account, according to reports. The man, who was arrested on August 10 by Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), has been identified in German media as David Smith, 57. His arrest is believed to have come as a result of a joint investigation by British and German authorities.

Smith is a longtime resident of Potsdam, a city located southeast of Berlin, and was married for 20 years to a woman from Ukraine, who is believed to have Russian heritage. According to some reports, however, his wife has not been living with him for some time. It has also been reported that Smith had been working for the British embassy in Berlin “for three or four years” in the period leading up to his arrest last week. It is also believed that he had previously served in the Royal Air Force and the Germany Guard Service (GGS). The latter is a joint British-German civilian volunteer force with roots in the Cold War, which provides security support to British Forces stationed in Germany.

Last week, several German news outlets said that Smith first aroused suspicions among British and German counterintelligence experts, after they noticed that he had not made use of his debit or credit cards for several months. His sudden lack of withdrawals from his bank accounts caused them to think that may have secured a cash-based source of income —possibly from a foreign intelligence agency. Citing anonymous intelligence officials, German media report that Smith passed on “low-grade information” to his Russian handlers, including lists of names of visitors to the British embassy. He was arrested, however, after British and German authorities allegedly feared that he was preparing to give Moscow more sensitive information in his possession.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 August 2021 | Permalink

Employee of British embassy in Berlin charged with spying for Russia

British embassy in BerlinAn employee of the British embassy in Berlin has been arrested by German authorities, who charged him with spying for the intelligence services of the Russian Federation, according to reports. The German newsmagazine Focus said on Wednesday that the employee is a 57-year-old British citizen. He was reportedly arrested on Tuesday by Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA). His arrest took place in Potsdam, a city located southeast of Berlin. His arrest is believed to have come as a result of a joint investigation by British and German authorities.

There appears to be some confusion about the man’s position at the British embassy. In some reports, he is referred to as a “liaison officer”, a term that describes diplomatic personnel whose job is to exchange security-related information with the relevant authorities of the host-country. However, other reports suggest that the man is locally based in Berlin, and was working as support personnel at the British embassy, without having been granted diplomatic status. This would mean that he does not have diplomatic immunity in Germany or elsewhere.

It is also believed that BKA officers searched the man’s home and workplace. According to Focus, he has been charged with carrying out espionage activities on behalf of Russian intelligence. German prosecutors said he began working for Russian intelligence in November of 2020 at the very latest. During that time, he allegedly provided classified information to his Russian handlers on at least one occasion, in exchange for cash. Media reports suggest that the information he allegedly gave the Russians relates to counter-terrorism operations. No further information is known about the case at this stage.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 August 2021 | Permalink

Germany arrests wife of alleged spy for China, says she assisted his espionage work

BND Germany

FEDERAL PROSECUTORS IN THE German city of Munich have arrested the wife of a German political scientist, who was himself arrested last month on charges of spying for China. Identified as “Klara K.”, the woman is believed to be a dual citizen of Germany and Italy. She is the wife of “Klaus K.”, 75, who began his career in the 1980s as a member of staff of the political research foundation Hanns Seidel Stiftung. The Munich-based foundation is the informal think-tank of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), which is the Bavarian arm of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union.

As part of his job, Klaus L. traveled frequently to countries in Africa, Asia and Europe, as well as to former Soviet states. It is also believed that, for over five decades, he worked as a paid informant for the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) —Germany’s foreign intelligence agency. On July 5, Klaus L. was arrested by the German police, and charged with spying for China. His arrest came a few weeks after his home in Munich was searched by the police, as part of an investigation into his activities.

On Monday, federal prosecutors in Munich said they had also arrested Klaus K.’s wife, Klara K. She has been charged with “regularly provid[ing] Chinese secret service officials with information in the run-up to, or after, state visits or multinational conferences” in which she and Klaus K. participated. She has also been charged with providing Chinese intelligence with “information on pertinent current issues”.

Last month, German media reported that Klaus and Klara K. were arrested shortly after returning to the Bavarian capital from Italy. The couple were on their way to the Munich International Airport, from where they were scheduled to travel to the Chinese autonomous region of Macau, allegedly in order to meet their Chinese handlers. Neither the Chinese central government, nor the Chinese embassy in Berlin, have commented on the case. The BND said on Monday that it did not “comment on matters that relate to […] intelligence information or activities”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 August 2021 | Permalink

German think-tank researcher arrested on suspicion of spying for Chinese intelligence

Shanghai

A GERMAN POLITICAL SCIENTIST, who worked for years as a senior member of a prominent Munich-based think-tank, has been arrested by German authorities on suspicion of spying for Chinese intelligence. In line with German privacy laws, the man has been named only as “Klaus L.”. He is believed to be 75 years old and to live in Munich.

According to reports, the suspect worked since the 1980s for the Hanns Seidel Stiftung, a political research foundation named after a former chairman of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) of Bavaria. The Munich-headquartered foundation is the informal think-tank of the CSU, which is the Bavarian arm of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union.

As part of his job, Klaus L. traveled frequently to countries in Africa, Asia and Europe, as well as former Soviet states. It is also believed that, for over 50 years, he had worked as a paid informant for the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) —Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, which is equivalent to the United States Central Intelligence Agency. According to a government press statement, Klaus L. would provide the BND with information relating to his foreign travels, conference attendance and other “certain issues” of interest to the spy agency. In return, the BND allegedly funded some of his travel and conference expenses, and provided him with a regular stipend.

But in the summer of 2010, Klaus L. was allegedly approached by Chinese intelligence during a trip to the city of Shanghai. According to German counterintelligence, he was persuaded by the Chinese to cooperate with Chinese intelligence operatives, and did so until the end of 2019. In November of that year, German police searched his home in Munich, as part of an investigation into his activities. In May of this year, Klaus L. was charged with espionage and on July 5 he was formally arrested.

Interestingly, Klaus L. does not deny that he provided sensitive information to China. He argues, however, that he informed his BND handler about his contacts with the Chinese, and that these were known to German intelligence. He therefore claims that his Chinese contacts were part of a German counterintelligence operation targeting the Chinese government. His trial is scheduled for this fall.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 July 2021 | Permalink

Germany arrests Russian PhD student on suspicion of spying for Moscow

University of Augsburg

A RUSSIAN DOCTORAL STUDENT in mechanical engineering, who is studying in a Bavarian university, has been arrested by German police on suspicion of spying for Moscow, according to official statements and reports in the German media. According to a press statement issued by the Federal Public Prosecutor General’s office in the city of Karlsruhe, the PhD student was arrested on Friday, June 18.

The student was subsequently identified by the German authorities only as “Ilnur N.”, in accordance with German privacy laws. On Monday, however, local media identified the suspected spy as Ilnur Nagaev, a doctoral candidate at the University of Augsburg, which is located 50 miles northwest of Munich. Nagaev reportedly works as a research assistant there, while pursuing his doctoral studies in mechanical engineering.

German authorities maintain that the suspect began working “for a Russian secret service” in early October of 2020, and possibly earlier. He is also accused of having met with an unidentified “member of a Russian foreign secret service” at least three times between October 2020 and June of this year. According to German federal prosecutors, Nagaev shared unspecified information with his alleged Russian handler, and received cash in return at the end of each meeting.

German police reportedly searched Nagaev’s home and work office looking for further clues about the case. In the meantime, a judge at the Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court of Justice) in the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe, which is Germany’s highest court on matters of ordinary jurisdiction, ordered that Nagaev be kept in pre-trial detention, pending a possible indictment. Neither the Russian nor the German federal governments have commented on this case.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 June 2021 | Permalink

Russian spy activity has reached Cold War levels, say Germany’s intelligence chiefs

Thomas Haldenwang Bruno Kahl

RUSSIAN INTELLIGENCE ACTIVITY in Germany has reached levels not seen since the days of the Cold War, while espionage methods by foreign adversaries are now more brutal and ruthless, according to the country’s spy chiefs. These claims were made by Thomas Haldenwang, who leads Germany’s Agency for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), and Bruno Kahl, head of the Federal Intelligence Service (BND), which operates externally.

The two men spoke to the Sunday edition of Die Welt, one of Germany’s leading newspapers. Their joint interview was published on June 6. Haldenwang told Die Welt am Sonntag that the presence of Russian spies on German soil reflects Moscow’s “very complex intelligence interest in Germany”. Accordingly, Russia has “increased its [espionage] activities in Germany dramatically” in recent years, said Haldenwang.

The counterintelligence chief added that Russia has a “large number of agents” that are currently active in German soil. Their goal is to try to “establish contacts in the realm of political decision-making”. One of many topics that the Kremlin is intensely interested at the moment is the future of Russia’s energy relationship with Germany, according to Haldenwang.

At the same time, Russia’s espionage methods are becoming “coarser” and the means that it uses to steal secrets “more brutal”, said the spy chief. Kahl, his external-intelligence colleague, agreed and added that Germany’s adversaries are “employing all possible methods […] to stir up dissonance between Western states”. Their ultimate goal is to “secure their own interests”, concluded Kahl.

However, despite Russia’s increased intelligence activity in Germany, the most serious threat to the security and stability of the German state is not Moscow, but domestic rightwing extremism, said Haldenwang. Notably, the German spy chief discussed the unparalleled rise of rightwing rhetoric on social media and websites. Such propaganda is being spread by people that he termed “intellectual arsonists”. Their “hate-filled messages” are essentially anti-democratic, said Haldenwang.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 June 2021 | Permalink

German army officer led double life as Syrian immigrant, planned to kill politicians

Franco AA GERMAN ARMY LIEUTENANT, who led a double life as a fake Syrian refugee, has gone on trial in Frankfurt, accused of planning to kill German politicians so as to provoke anti-Arab sentiment among Germans. The man has been identified by the German media as “Franco A.”, 32, due to strict German privacy laws. He lived in France, where he served in the Franco-German Brigade, an elite military force that combines units from the French and German armies, and is meant to symbolize Franco-German rapprochement in the postwar era.

In 2016, Franco A. approached German authorities and pretended to be a French-speaking Christian from Syria, having first dyed his beard black and darkened his complexion using make-up. Using the name “David Benjamin”, he convinced German immigration officials to provide him with temporary identity papers and grant him asylum in Germany. He also received a monthly allowance from the German state. In 2017, however, Franco A. was arrested in Vienna while trying to retrieve a loaded pistol he had hidden in a public bathroom. When searching his room at the Franco-German Brigade barracks, police discovered Nazi-era memorabilia. Further searches at his parents’ home in Germany uncovered stockpiles of ammunition and explosives.

German prosecutors now allege that Franco A. belonged in a secretive network of far-right German survivalists, whose members planned to take armed action on a day they referred to as “Day X”, which would mark the beginning of a civil war in Germany. Additionally, Franco A. is accused of having stolen ammunition from his barracks, and of keeping a list of possible victims for assassination. The latter included the German Foreign Affairs Minister Heiko Maas and Claudia Roth, a member of the German Green Party, who currently serves as Vice-President of the Bundestag —Germany’s federal parliament.

But the plot thickened once German authorities realized that Franco A.’s fingerprints matched exactly those of the Syrian immigrant, David Benjamin. They then realized Franco A. and David Benjamin were one and the same person. According to government prosecutors, Franco A. planned to kill at least one senior German political figure, then leave the gun bearing his fingerprints at the scene of the crime. His goal was to have the fingerprints match those of his fake Syrian identity, and in doing so stir anti-Arab sentiment among the German population.

During his court appearance on Thursday, Franco A. denied being a neo-Nazi, and claimed that the reason he posed as a Syrian refugee was because he wanted to “expose the flaws in Germany’s asylum system”. He faces 10 years in prison, if convicted.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 May 2021 | Permalink

German spy agency says it is monitoring anti-lockdown conspiracy movement

Querdenker GERMANY’S DOMESTIC INTELLIGENCE AGENCY said on Wednesday it has begun monitoring groups associated with conspiracy theories surrounding COVID-19, who are “challenging the legitimacy of the state”. Germany is home to one of the most vocal anti-lockdown movements in the Western world, with public rallies against lockdown measures taking place nearly every week across the country. These rallies attract a peculiar mix of participants who come from a variety of backgrounds, including anti-vaccination proponents, various conspiracy theorists, and supporters of both far-left and far-right parties.

In recent months, demonstrations against lockdown measures have been turning violent, as members of militant far-right groups have begun to participate in large numbers. They include members of Germany’s largest far-right party, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), as well as the anti-Semitic Reichsbürger movement and followers of the Selbstverwalter —the Germany’s version of the American Sovereign Citizens movement. Some of these groups are coalescing around a new nucleus of anti-government activists, who describe themselves as members of the Querdenker movement.

The term Querdenker translates into “lateral thinkers”. It represents what Germany’s domestic spy agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) describes as “a new category” of anti-government militancy. Its adherents do not conform to either far-left, far-right, or religiously motivated militancy. Over 90 percent of Querdenker followers are over the age of 30, with their average age being nearly 50. Over two thirds describe themselves as middle class, and vote for far left and the far right parties in equal numbers. Others do not vote at all. But, according to sociological studies, xenophobia and negative views of Muslims are prominent among Querdenker followers.

This is the first time that Germany’s domestic spy agency has formally identified a group that is associated with anti-lockdown activities as the target of a national security investigation. Meanwhile, Querdenker leaders have vowed to continue their anti-lockdown activities across Germany in the coming weeks.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 April 2021 | Permalink

High-security trial of neo-Nazi group that wanted to spark civil war begins in Germany

AMIDST EXTREMELY TIGHT SECURITY, the trial of 12 members and supporters of a secretive neo-Nazi group that planned to destabilize society and spark a nationwide civil war has begun in the German city of Stuttgart. According to the indictment, the goal of the group, which calls itself “Gruppe S”, was to “shake and ultimately topple the state and social order” in Germany, in order to “spark a civil conflict”.

In accordance with German law, the accused have been identified in the media by their first names and last name initials only. All are German citizens, between the ages 32 and 61. It is worth noting that one of them is a police officer in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. He is accused of supporting the group by offering €5,000 (nearly $6,000) for them to purchase weaponry in the illicit market. Another member of the group, who has not been arrested and remains at large, is being tried in absentia.

According to authorities, Gruppe S members had around 30 firearms in their possession, which they were using to train in preparation for war. All firearms were reportedly unlicensed. Shortly prior to their arrest in February of last year, Gruppe S members were reportedly preparing to purchase a Kalashnikov assault rifle and at least one Uzi submachine gun, as well as thousands of rounds of ammunition and several hand grenades.

It is believed that the investigation that led to the arrest of Gruppe S members begun after an informant came forward and alerted the authorities. This person is now believed to be the government’s chief witness, and is living under police protection. The trial is being conducted inside the Stammheim super-maximum security prison complex in Stuttgart, which is the same prison that housed the leading members of the Red Army Faction urban guerrilla group in the 1970s. The Gruppe S trial is scheduled to conclude in August.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 April 2021 | Permalink

Cambridge spy ring member gave USSR British royals’ pro-Nazi letters

Anthony Blunt

ANTHONY BLUNT, A MEMBER of the so-called Cambridge ring of communist spies, gave Soviet intelligence private letters written by members of the British royal family, which revealed “the depth of their Nazi sympathies”, according to a new television documentary. This revelation is included in “Queen Elizabeth and the Spy in the Palace”, the second of a three-part documentary series entitled Royals Declassified. The program was aired last week by Britain’s Channel 4 television station. According to the documentary, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), the post-Soviet inheritor of the KGB’s external functions, may still be in possession of these controversial letters.

The Cambridge Spies were a group of British diplomats and intelligence officers who worked secretly for the Soviet Union from their student days in the 1930s until the 1960s. They included Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and H.A.R. “Kim” Philby, all of whom eventually defected to the Soviet Union. In 1964, Sir Anthony Blunt, an art historian and former British Security Service (MI5) agent, who in April of 1945 became Surveyor of the King’s Pictures and was knighted in 1954, admitted under interrogation by the British Security Service (MI5) that he had operated as the fourth member of the spy ring.

The Channel 4 documentary features an interview with Australian author and historian Roland Perry, who recounts his conversations with the late Soviet intelligence officer Yuri Ivanovich Modin. Modin handled the Cambridge Spies from 1948 to 1951 as an officer of the Ministry for State Security (MGB), the immediate forerunner of the KGB. According to what Modin told Perry, in 1945 Blunt was tasked with a secret mission by King George VI, father of Queen Elizabeth II, who is Britain’s current reigning monarch.

Blunt’s mission was to accompany the British royal family’s librarian, Sir Owen Morshead, on a trip to Germany’s Darmstadt region. By that time the Third Reich had collapsed and the Darmstadt region was under American military occupation. The purpose of the secret trip was to take ownership of nearly 4,000 personal letters sent by various British royals to their German relatives during the first four decades of the 20th century. According to Perry, among these letters were several items of correspondence written in the years immediately preceding World War II by two of George V’s sons, Princes Edward and George. Perry claims that the letters expressed strong support for German National Socialism and, according to media reports, “would have proved hugely embarrassing” for the British royal family, had they been made public. The potential fallout of these letters was deemed so critical that Blunt and Morshead’s secret mission was personally sanctioned, not only by George VI, but also by British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill.

The two men recovered the letters, the majority of which were held at Friedrichshof Castle, located 12 miles northwest of Frankfurt. But the Channel 4 documentary alleges that Blunt secretly took photographs of the letters and passed them on to the Soviets. Perry claims that Modin told him during one of their meetings that the letters were highly incriminating and that Soviet intelligence could have blackmailed the British royals, had it chosen to do so. But the Cambridge spy ring handler said that the KGB decided not to take action on the matter —most likely to protect Blunt.

Despite his allegedly full confession in 1964, Blunt was never seriously disciplined for his espionage activities against Britain. In return for revealing his spy activities and naming others who had assisted him, he was granted immunity from prosecution.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 April 2021 | Permalink

German court blocks intelligence agency’s plan to spy on far-right party

BfV GermanyA GERMAN COURT HAS temporarily blocked an attempt by the country’s intelligence service to place a domestic far-right party under government surveillance for the first time since the Nazi era. The far-right party, Alternative für Deutschland, or AfD, was established in 2013. It shocked the German political establishment in 2017, when it received nearly 6 million votes, which amounted to 12.6% of the national vote. Since then, however, the AfD has been shunned by other political parties and the German media, for its alleged links with neo-Nazi groups and sympathizers.

Last week, German newsmagazine Der Spiegel revealed that the country’s domestic intelligence agency, known as the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), had launched an operation to place the entirety of the AfD under surveillance. The purpose of the operation was to assess whether the party is part of a concerted campaign to undermine the German system of government and the constitution. According to Der Spiegel, the BfV decided to launch a surveillance campaign against the AfD following the conclusion of a two-year investigation into the legality of the party’s political platform and activities.

The BfV plan would enable the spy agency to monitor the AfD’s telecommunications, keep tabs on its officials, members and supporters, and investigate the party’s finances for foreign or illicit sources of income. The BfV’s proposed plan marked the first time that a German political party would become the target of systematic surveillance by the state since the Nazi era.

But a court in Cologne has now placed a temporary halt on the BfV’s plans, following a number of legal cases and emergency motions filed by the AfD against the plan, according to reports in the German media. The party reportedly argued that being placed under surveillance by the state would prevent it from competing fairly in elections against other political parties that were not targeted by state surveillance. On Friday, the court concluded that the BfV could not initiate its surveillance of the AfD until the party’s legal challenges against the measure had concluded. This means that the BfV plan is currently suspended until the courts decide on the case. It is not known at this time if the BfV intends to appeal the court’s decision.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 March 2021 | Permalink

Iran state media claims Britain and Germany helped US kill Soleimani

Qasem SoleimaniIRANIAN STATE MEDIA CLAIMED last week that several countries, including Britain and Germany, helped the United States assassinate its top paramilitary commander, Qassem Soleimani (pictured). The reports emerged on the one-year anniversary of the assassination of Soleimani, who led Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). He was killed by a drone strike on January 3, 2020, in Baghdad, Iraq. The same missile strike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who commanded the Popular Mobilisation Committee, an umbrella organization composed of about 40 pro-Iranian militias in Iraq.

Last week, Iran’s state-owned DEFA Press news agency reported that Tehran’s own investigation into the assassination operation showed that Washington was assisted by several countries, and even by some private security firms. According to the report, the Iranian government’s prosecutor, Ali Alqasimehr, stated that G4S, a security services contractor based in Britain, had “played a role” in Soleimani and al-Muhandis’ killing. He added that the US forces also made use of facilities at the Ramstein Air Base, located in southwestern Germany, to carry out the attack.

In addition to Britain and Germany, Iranian officials said that the governments of Qatar, Kuwait, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq assisted in the operation by providing logistical support and intelligence. According to DEFA Press, more countries are likely to be added to the Iranian government’s list of culprits, once Tehran concludes its investigation into the killing. Iranian officials have provided no evidence for such claims. It is also unclear whether Iran is considering launching revenge attacks against countries that allegedly assisted the US in its effort to kill the two paramilitary commanders.

Speaking during a commemoration event on Friday, Soleimani’s successor at the helm of the IRGC, Esmail Ghaani, said that Iran was “ready to avenge” Soleimani’s death. During the event, which was held at the University of Tehran, Ghaani warned that “someone who will retaliate for your crime […] may emerge from inside your own house”. He did not elaborate. Large commemorative gatherings to mark the one-year anniversary of the assassinations took place throughout Iran and Iraq, where Iran-backed paramilitary groups hold significant power.

Last January Iran issued a warning against Greece, saying that it would retaliate if the US used its military bases on Greek soil to attack the Islamic Republic. It was the first time that Iran had threatened to launch attacks against a member of the European Union in connection with the ongoing rise in tensions between Tehran and Washington.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 January 2021 | Permalink

Slovakia expels three Russian diplomats in connection with 2019 murder in Berlin

Russian embassy in SlovakiaThree Russian diplomats have been ordered to leave Slovakia, reportedly in connection with the killing in Germany of a Chechen former separatist, which many believed was ordered by Moscow. On Monday, the Foreign Ministry of Slovakia confirmed media reports that three Russian diplomats had been declared ‘unwanted persons’ and ordered to leave the country.

The three diplomats are stationed at Russia’s embassy in Bratislava. They are believed to be intelligence officers operating under diplomatic cover. A spokesman from the Slovak Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Monday, citing “information from the Slovak intelligence services”, according to which the three Russians engaged in “activities [that] were in contradiction with the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations”. Additionally, said the statement, Slovak authorities had uncovered “an abuse of visas issued at the Slovak general consulate in St. Petersburgh, and in this connection a serious crime was committed on the territory of another European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization member state”.

The statement did not elaborate on the specifics of the “serious crime”, but Slovak media report that it refers to the killing last August of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a leading figure in the Second Chechen War, which pitted the Russian military against groups of Muslim fighters in the North Caucasus between 1999 and 2009. Khangoshvili, a Muslim born in Georgia, was a bodyguard of Aslan Maskhadov, the self-described leader of the Muslim separatists in the Northern Caucasus. In 2015, Khangoshvili sought political asylum in Germany after two men tried to kill him in Tbilisi. The German authorities initially placed him on a terrorism watch list, but removed him after he began to collaborate with German counterterrorist agencies and participate in programs designed to de-radicalize Muslim youth. He was shot in broad daylight in Berlin by a man wearing a wig and carrying a pistol fitted with a silencer. Officials from the Berlin prosecutor’s office said at the time there were “indications the deed was pre-planned and may have political motives behind it”. It is now believed that at least one of the men suspected of involvement in planning Khangoshvili’s killing had traveled from Russia to the European Union on a visa issued by the Slovakian consulate in St. Petersburgh.

The three Russian diplomats have reportedly been told that they have until this coming Sunday to leave Slovakia. The Russian embassy in Bratislava said it would not comment on the expulsions. Kremlin officials have strongly denied that the Russian government had any ties to the killing of Khangoshvili. Moscow has vowed to expel an equal number of Slovak diplomats from the Russian capital in the coming days.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 August 2020 | Permalink

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