ANALYSIS: The tentacles of Iranian secret service

At home and abroad, the infamous Ministry of Intelligence and Security operates in much the same way as Gestapo, writes Tony Duheaume

Tony Duheaume
Tony Duheaume
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Most abuses that have taken place against civilians on Iranian territory over the years are coordinated between the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the Basij militia- Basij Mostazafan, and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS). But where the MOIS is concerned, it has also been reportedly involved in acts of terror overseas, where it often works alongside its sister organisations the IRGC Qods Force and Hezbollah.

Both at home and abroad, the infamous Ministry of Intelligence and Security operates in much the same way as the Gestapo. On home territory, operating alongside the IRGC and the Basij, it ensures that through the use of an army of informers – many of whom are within the ranks of the Basij itself, who are in place in virtually every town and city – all dissent is quelled before it has time to get off the ground. Often working closely with the Basij, the mandate of the MOIS is said to make certain the Shiite revolutionary government is protected at all costs.

It was during the 1980s, at a time when the newly-formed revolutionary government was beginning to consolidate its position, the mass murder of innocent dissidents began in earnest, and during a period when those deemed a threat to the regime were being slaughtered throughout the country, in the region of 30,000 inmates were slaughtered within Iran’s prison system alone, a slaughter which eventually spread to those dissidents living in exile abroad.

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To protect the mullah’s Islamic Republic from outside threats, the Ministry of Intelligence is believed to be expert when it comes to tracking down expatriates who are causing dissent from foreign shores, and with the use of its well-established sleeper cell network, friendly foreign intelligence agencies, and various front organizations – set up specifically to aid its spy network – it has been able to eliminate many threats, often through the use of assassination.

Following a series of violent, sporadic murders, during a period between 1980 and 1998, which became known in the Iranian press as the “chain murders”, it is believed that up to 80 dissidents eventually died at the hands of MOIS assassins. But due to the modus operandi used by the killers, where they varied the means of execution from staged burglaries, muggings, stabbings, car crashes, the use of chemical agents to induce heart attacks, and murder during fake robberies, the full scale of the death toll may never be known.

It was in the late eighties, during the first term of Mohammad Khatami’s presidency, the MOIS were said to have let loose an elite squad of infamous killers to take care of opponents of the Tehran regime living inside Iran, and also many living in exile in Europe, in a series of sickening assassinations.

These murders were terribly brutal, designed to instil fear into the hearts of any dissidents feeling brave enough to want to speak out against the regime, and some of the victims of these hit squads, died in the most barbaric of fashions, their bodies severely mutilated, women included.

One of the most brutal attacks had taken place in 1998, which was against 70-year-old Dariush Forouhar, an outspoken critic of the Iranian regime, and his 54-year-old wife Parvaneh, and such was the savagery of these assaults, it gave all the indications that a crazed killer was on the loose.

Dariush Forouhar, who at the time was the leader of the Iran People’s Party, was stabbed frenziedly and repeatedly, and as a result of the killer using such aggression and violence during the attack, Dariush was decapitated. Stabbed in the same vicious manner, one of his wife’s breasts had been cut clean off, and the brutal murders which took place in the Forouhar’s flat in Tehran, was greeted with shock and disgust by the Iranian public.

Although, over recent years, being no longer involved in this type of assassination, due to the adverse publicity they generate on foreign soil, the MOIS is still very active in other forms of undercover intelligence work, and one of the main areas it continues to concentrate on is the monitoring, infiltration and control of groups deemed a threat to the Islamic revolutionary government of Iran.

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Since that dark period of assassinations in the 1980s, the MOIS is believed to have changed its modus operandi, and in its less conspicuous role, carries out or helps support terrorist and military activities on foreign soil, in coordination with its sister organisations the Qods Force and Hezbollah, in which it has been heavily involved in logistics and planning.

Over past years, operations the MOIS have said to have been involved in include the bombing of the US Beirut Embassy on April 18, 1983, the US Marine and French forces barracks bombings on October 23, 1983, the hijacking of the TWA airliner on June 14, 1985, a series of fatal bombings in Paris killing 12 people in 1985-86, a series of kidnappings, tortures and murders of US citizens in Lebanon during the 1980s, the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992, the AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires in 1994 which killed 85 people and injured hundreds, the Khobar Towers attack in Saudi Arabia on June 25, 1996, in which a truck-bomb killed 19 US servicemen and injured 498 people of various nationalities, the October 2000 attack on USS Cole by al-Qaeda, of which Iran was said to have been involved in, and more recently the October 2011 plot to murder the Saudi ambassador in a New York restaurant, as well as various other operations that have been placed at the door of Iran’s proxy Hezbollah.

Following this, the whole of 2012 was a very active year for Hezbollah, MOIS, and Qods Force-type activity. In January, their involvement in terrorist activity continued, when Hezbollah militant, Atris Hussein, a Swedish citizen of Lebanese descent, was convicted of storing four tons of bomb-making material in a warehouse just outside of Bangkok, Thailand.

Then as more such plots continued throughout the year, in New Delhi on February 13, a close replica to the bomb planted in Bangkok was used in a similar incident in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, but was defused after it was found attached to a car belonging to Israeli embassy staff.

Then in March of the same year, four members of the Iranian Qods Force were reportedly arrested after entering Turkey possessing weapons, which were said to have been for use on Turkish territory against Israeli diplomats. But one of the most deadly attacks came in July 2012, after Hezbollah was said to have been involved in the suicide bombing of a bus load of Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria, which US officials believed was in retaliation for the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists, which Tehran had placed firmly at the door of Israel and the US.

According to reports, during recent years, the Iranian secret service has been concentrating a lot on the internet, checking out online social sites for the identity of Iranian’s with links to abroad, and there have been reports that they pay volunteers to search the internet for dissenters.

The MOIS has also opened its own website, where informers can contact them if they have information on dissidents or spies. But at the present time, with the Iran Deal now in place, and with Iranian troops involved in the fighting in Syria and Iraq, things have quietened down on the rest of the international stage; a lull rather than a cessation.

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