Sunday, January 08, 2017

08-Jan-17: Pakistanis, working for Iran, plotted murders of Israelis in France, Germany

From news coverage of the suspect's earlier arrest last summer [Image Source]
A brief report put out by Kuwait's official newsagency caught our eye last week:
BERLIN (January 3, KUNA): The office of the German Prosecutor General has on Tuesday officially accused a Pakistani national of spying for Iran. Sayed Mustafa, 31 years, confessed of receiving money from an Iranian secret service for spying on the former head of German-Israeli Society Reinhold Robbe over at least one year, said a statement by the Prosecutor General's office located in Karlsruhe city. The defendant is also accused by Paris of spying on a professor of economics for the same Iranian secret service, according to the statement. The man. arrested in last July is to stand trial after his interrogation complete in mid-December [Source: Kuwait News Agency KUNA]
The fractured English aside, it sounds like more than spying is involved here, unless the Kuwaitis mean for us to believe that Iran is seeking insights into economic theory or wants to get a deeper understanding of how Germany's parliament works (Robbe has been an elected member of the Bundestag for the past 23 years). Both options are unlikely.

Now there's a different version of this murky story from an official German source:
German federal prosecutors pressed charges against a 31-year-old Pakistani student who they believe targeted Social Democratic Party (SPD) politician Reinhold Robbe on behalf of the Iranian intelligence agency, German media reported on Friday. Robbe, who served as president of the German-Israeli Society (DIG) until 2015, was being eyed as a possible assassination target, according to information reviewed by German public broadcasters NDR and WDR, as well as the daily "Süddeutsche Zeitung." According to the federal prosecutors' indictment, the suspected agent, named as Syed Mustufa H., compiled a thorough "movement profile" on Robbe and staked out the DIG offices in Berlin - signs authorities said were a clear indication of an assassination attempt.
The suspect paid particularly close attention to Robbe's public transportation travel habits and charted alternate routes that he took on the way to the DIG Berlin building. Prosecutors said the suspect's actions were part of a broader operation to identify possible targets with friendly ties to Israel in Germany, France and other European countries, the reports said. The Pakistani man is also accused of spying on a French-Israeli professor at a business school in Paris on behalf of Iranian intelligence. The suspect was previously detained by authorities in July 2016 under suspicion of espionage and was known to Germany's domestic intelligence agency (BfV). The Pakistani suspect is believed to have been spying for Iran since July 2015. The exact motive for carrying out a possible attack on Robbe is still unclear. However, security agencies speculate that the Iranian government could have been preparing a retaliatory move against people closely linked to Israel should Israel carry out airstrikes against Iranian nuclear power plants. Despite his extensive observation of Robbe, files confiscated from Syed Mustafa H. indicate that some of his methods were those of an amateur... The suspected agent officially studied engineering in Bremen and also worked at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in the northern German city, the reports said. It is the first known case of a German politician being the target of an espionage operation by the Iranian intelligence agency, the reports said. [Deutsche Welle, January 7, 2017]
We're left wondering: Does this suspected spy/assassin have a surname and is it H? (Associated Press says this is "in keeping with German privacy rules"). Is there a good reason for not publicly identifying the Iranian spy agency? Is this really just an espionage story? And can we expect the wiley - and ruthless - Iranians to intervene and extract their agent from the German authorities clutches as they recently did in Kenya? ["14-Dec-16: Kenya, one way or another, clarifies its stance in the face of Iranian terror"]

In Pakistan, the alleged agent's July 2016 arrest in Germany on charges of serving the Iranians was a real story: see "Germany arrests Pakistani man accused of spying for Iran" [Express Tribune, Pakistan, July 8, 2016]. The photo at the top of this post is from the news coverage at the time.

Israel's Ynet, like us, is inclined to look past the espionage claims and to view the arrest as more pertaining to a sleeper assassination squad in the service of the Iranian regime:
A 31 year old Pakistani man has been indicted for being involved in an attempt to assassinate Reinhold Robbe - a member of the socialist-democrats and former president of the body responsible for strengthening relations between Israel and Germany. [He] was recruited by Iranian intelligence services, and was tasked with following known, outspoken Israel supporters in Germany... Mustafa and other operatives were to have been given orders to assassinate these targets should Israel have struck the Iranian nuclear reactors... Mustafa was arrested in July on suspicion of spying, and has been known to German intelligence services as a suspected Iranian agent since at least 2015. [Ynet, January 8, 2017]
And an Israel-based video news network pursues a similar line:
While the motive of the possible attack remains unclear, authorities reportedly suspect that the individuals were targeted as part of a planned worldwide retaliation scheme, in case Israel carries out an airstrike against Iran's nuclear facilities. Another suspect, also a Pakistani national, was arrested in connection to the affair but was released due to insufficient evidence, as he was able to erase the hard drive of his computer prior to his arrest, possibly destroying incriminating information. He left Germany immediately after his release. German media noted that it is the first known case in which a German politician was the target of an operation by the Iranian secret service... [i24NewsTV, today]
As for Iranian motivation (and perhaps fingerprints), a reminder of a news snippet we highlighted here just last month: 
Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan, while speaking at a conference in Tehran, said that were President-Elect Trump to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear “deal” signed by the Obama administration, Iran would destroy the State of Israel... ["Iran threatens to destroy Israel - again", Washington TimesDecember 12, 2016]
We suspect this story has some way yet to go.

No comments: