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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - LONDON: Iranian dissidents in the UK are facing an increased risk of violence and threats, with counterterrorism police taking the matter “very seriously,” The Times reported on Tuesday.
Amid the turbulent situation in the Middle East since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, Tehran is engaging criminal groups in the UK and Europe to attempt assassinations, death threats and intimidation of Iranian dissidents, police said.
The Metropolitan Police’s new hostile state threat unit has visited several dissident figures in London over the past fortnight, advising them to take measures to minimize risks.
Dissidents were told to change their daily routines and avoid traveling to countries neighboring Iran due to the threat of kidnapping.
Over the past two years, Tehran has been accused of staging more than 12 violent plots in the UK aimed at dissidents and opposition media outlets.
The UK government on Monday sanctioned an Iranian spy network whose members planned the assassination of two prominent Iranian opposition journalists in London last year.
The two Iran International journalists, Fardad Farahzad and Sima Sabet, were given the code name “the bride and groom” by their assassins, who were exposed by a UK TV investigation.
The failed plot to kill the two journalists was orchestrated by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and resulted in the channel temporarily relocating to the US.
Assassins hired by the IRGC’s Unit 840 had initially planned to kill Farahzad and Sabet using a car bomb, but later changed their strategy to a knife attack.
Unit 840, as well as the criminal networks involved in the failed assassination, were the subject of Monday’s new sanctions.
UK Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron said: “The Iranian regime has tried to undermine our democracy through repression — we will continue to take action when necessary to protect our country, values and freedom of speech.
“We cannot allow foreign regimes to collaborate with criminals to threaten us. Sanctioning these criminal networks working for the Iranian regime will remind them that we will fight back.”
One Iranian dissident who was visited by police told The Times: “Police came and told me they have set up this new unit and they are keeping a closer eye on things.
“They are taking it very seriously, offering safety advice and keeping in regular contact. They said that since the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel there is a greater threat.”
A Counter Terrorism Policing spokesperson said: “Everything we have learned from our efforts in countering terrorism, we are now applying to this threat.
“The skills, the knowledge, the tactics that have thwarted 39 terrorist plots since 2017 are now shaping our response in this area.”
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