Jailed Iranians had links with terror squad ‘new al Qaeda’


Iranians Sayed Mansour Mousavi (left) and Ahmed Abolfathi Mohammed at the Nairobi Law Courts when they were found guilty of possessing explosives and planning to carry out bombings in Kenya. [PHOTO: EVANS HABIL/STANDARD]


The two Iranians jailed for life earlier this week over a terrorism plot in Kenya were linked to a secretive group Western nations call “the new al-Qaeda”.

Backed by the Iranian Government and allegedly working with Hezbollah, the Quds Force has been tied to dozens of terror attacks and attempts around the world since 2010. This spate of attacks began after a bomb set by Israeli spies killed an Iranian nuclear scientist in Tehran in February that year.

The Quds Force is part of the elite Islamic Republican Guard Corps and is often referred to by the initials IGRC-QF. Some American officials describe it as the next big threat for counter-terrorism efforts. Iranian officials, however, scoff at these claims saying they are the victims of a global conspiracy co-ordinated by the US and Israel, among others.

Mr Malek Givzad, Iran’s ambassador to Kenya, says the claims are a pretext for a planned military occupation similar to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“The US and Israel use every opportunity to spread propaganda against Iran,” Givzad told The Standard On Saturday. He insists that although the two nations have had a hand in the killings of at least four scientists linked to Iran’s controversial nuclear programme, his country has not retaliated. Terror watchers, however, say there is lots of proof Iran is planning attacks on Israelis around the world. Unlike Al-Qaeda, which sprang to global attention on the back of a few high-profile attacks, the Iranian terror machine is said to focus on ‘soft targets’, with more failures than successes. Two of the reported incidents were in Africa (The Gambia and Nigeria), all happening at around the time of the Kenya arrests. Investigators looking into the Kenya case were able to satisfy the courts the two men they arrested were planning attacks.

Held in Nairobi

Sayed Mansour, 51, and Ahmed Mohamed, 50, were arrested in Nairobi in June last year and linked to 15 kilograms of explosives found on a golf course in Mombasa. This was part of a 100kg consignment of RDX that is believed to have arrived into Kenya on MV Padriz earlier in the year. The explosives were allegedly to be used on British, American, Israeli or Saudi targets in Nairobi and Mombasa. In an effort to disguise the Quds Force connection, the Iranians allegedly partnered with operatives from Al-Shabaab movement, which have been conducting a bombing campaign in Kenya.

Writing in ‘Policy Focus’ earlier this year, security analyst Martin Levitt said there is evidence the Quds Force and Hezbollah, a Shia militant group based in Lebanon, are in a “shadow war” with the West. Levitt, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has previously served the US State Department as a counterterrorism advisor. He points to the battle over the Gulf State’s nuclear programme as a trigger for the violence.

“In January 2010, the Quds Force decided that it and Hezbollah, its primary terrorist proxy, would embark on a new campaign of violence targeting not only Israel but the United States and other Western targets as well,” Levitt writes. “Since then, the two organizations have been cooperating but also competing to launch attacks across the globe. What is particularly striking is how amateurish their actions have been: targets were poorly chosen and assaults carried out with gross incompetence.”

The attacks are allegedly meant to take revenge for the 2008 assassination of Imad Mughniyah, a prominent Hezbollah commander, retaliating for attacks on Iran’s nuclear program, and convincing Western powers that an attack on Iran would result in – among other things – terrorist attacks worldwide. “Iranian decision makers settled on a campaign of violence based on a three-tiered threat stream targeting the following: Israeli tourists, government figures (diplomats, retired officials), and targets broadly representative of Israel or the Jewish community (community leaders, prominent Israeli companies),” Levitt writes. “It assigned the task of targeting Israeli tourists – a soft target – to Hezbollah and maintained for the Quds Force operations targeting Israeli, American, British, or Gulf States’ interests. The latter would be carried out by a new Special External Operations Unit known as Unit 400.”

In July last year, US counterterrorism official Matthew Olsen warned that Iran and Hezbollah were becoming more of a threat.

“We’re seeing a general uptick in the level of activity around the world,” he was quoted as saying. “Both Hezbollah and the Quds Force have shown an ability to operate globally. There are times when we are briefing the White House [on terror threats and] at the top of the list are Hezbollah or Iran.”