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TV station shuts UK HQ as Iran’s killers target staff - The Sunday Times - 18.02.23

Dissident channel relocates after Metropolitian Police advice.

A dissident Iranian television channel has been forced to stop broadcasting from its headquarters in Britain after Scotland Yard warned staff that it cannot safeguard them from Tehran-backed assassins or kidnappers on UK soil.

The “exceptional” advice given by counterterrorism police chiefs to Iran International to relocate its operation from London to Washington DC follows a string of foiled plots targeting the opposition station’s journalists in recent weeks.

Things are believed to have come to a head last weekend when a 30-year-old Austrian national flew into Britain on a one-way ticket and was allegedly caught filming security arrangements outside the channel’s premises on a business park in Chiswick, west London.

The man has been charged with a terrorism offence, but ongoing investigations into the incident prompted police to declare that they still had “serious concerns” about the safety of employees.

About 100 staff work at the headquarters, many of whom are long-term British residents.

Mahmood Enayat, the channel’s general manager, said in a statement yesterday: “I cannot believe it has come to this. A foreign state has caused such a significant threat to the British public on British soil that we have to move.

“Let’s be clear, this is not just a threat to our TV station, but [to] the British public at large. This is an assault on the values of sovereignty and free speech that the UK has always held dear.”

Last November, the Metropolitan Police temporarily deployed armoured vehicles and firearms officers at Iran International’s offices after warning staff that they faced an “imminent” and “credible threat to life”.

Around the same time, Ken McCallum, the director-general of MI5, revealed that the regime in Tehran had sought to murder or kidnap individuals in the UK on at least 10 occasions since the start of the year.

On Thursday, the Met disclosed that the number of foiled plots had sharply increased to 15. Some of the later plots are believed to revolve around employees at Iran International.

Matt Jukes, the country’s head of counterterrorism policing, said the decision to advise the channel to close its UK operations on Friday had “not been given lightly”.

In an unprecedented statement released yesterday, Jukes said police and the security services have worked closely to “foil 15 plots since the start of 2022 to either kidnap or even kill British or UK-based individuals perceived as enemies of the [Iranian] regime”.

“Those affected continue to be given appropriate advice and support and a number of protective security measures have been put in place to mitigate against these threats.

“As was apparent late last year, this involved protective security measures, including an overt armed policing presence focused around the west London offices of a Persian-language media company.”

Jukes, an assistant commissioner at the Met, went on: “Since that time, we have continued to investigate this particular threat alongside others and security operations have continued. In light of the ongoing investigation that follows the arrest of a man last weekend in that area, and despite extraordinary security measures, we still have serious concerns for the safety of people working at this company. This has led to us giving further advice and the company is now relocating.”

Jukes added: “We appreciate that talking to a media company about moving their operations from a particular location — even though it is due to grave safety concerns — is exceptional . . .

“The situation that journalists face around the world and the fact that some journalists face such hostile intentions of foreign states while in the UK is a challenging reality that we are determined to confront.

“This is reflected in the fact that our overall workload in investigating threats from foreign states has quadrupled over the past two years. Any attempt to intimidate, harass or to harm British citizens or those who have come to live in the UK is completely unacceptable.”

Jukes said the force was determined to work with the government and others “to ensure the UK is a safe environment for the media and for this company”.

Last Tuesday, Magomed-Husejn Dovtaev, an Austrian national of Chechen origin, appeared before Westminster magistrates’ court charged with collecting information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.

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TV station shuts UK HQ as Iran’s killers target staff - The Times - 18.02.23
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Dipesh Gadher and Glen Keogh for The Sunday Times – 18.02.23

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