Published On: Sun, Mar 31st, 2024
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Journalist Pouria Zeraati stabbed in London was ‘targeted by elite Iran unit’ | UK | News

A journalist stabbed outside his London home was targeted by an elite unit of Iran’s armed forces, it was claimed last night. Pouria Zeraati was stabbed several times and was last night recovering from wounds in hospital.

Mr Zeraati, 36, is an anchor for news channel Iran International, which has been a major thorn in Tehran’s side since becoming the most widely watched source of news in Iran, where people view it illegally.

Two years ago it was branded a “terrorist” organisation under the orders of Iran’s notorious Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which acts as Iran’s enforcer, safeguarding the regime’s interests abroad.

In 2020 the Sunday Express revealed how intelligence officers tried to lure one of its UK- based journalists to Turkey in order to kidnap her after she reported on violent clashes that had rocked the Islamic country.

Since then dozens of high-profile presenters and journalists at the Persian language broadcaster had been contacted by Iran’s notorious Ministry of Intelligence and National Security with threats that they will be snatched off London’s streets unless they leave their jobs.

In 2022, IRGC commander-in-chief Gen Hossein Salami issued a threat to Saudia Arabia, which is believed to bankroll Iran International: “I warn you to be wary of your behaviour and control these media,” he said in a televised speech. “You have interfered in our internal affairs through these media, but you must know that you are vulnerable.”

In the same year Iranian security forces issued death threats against two of its journalists, which Scotland Yard termed “credible”.

Despite a police presence at its West London studios, the threats reached such a degree that the channel temporarily moved to Washington DC while it sought alternative premises.

It returned to London nine months ago in what insiders say are “completely secure” premises in North London.

Sources said the channel had been working closely with police since 2022 and had provided all staff with professional self-defence training.

Mr Zeraati was just leaving his home in Wimbledon at 2.49pm on Friday when he was met by two men, who appeared to be waiting for him, sources said.

After stabbing him, they ran to a waiting car where a third person was waiting to drive them away.

Last night it emerged that the stabbing followed a period of increasing violent threats.

“Along with our colleagues at BBC Persian, Iran International has been under threat, very heavy threats, for the last 18 months since the IRGC said ‘we’re coming for you’, which they have consistently repeated,” said spokesman Adam Baillie

“The scale of that has increased dramatically over the last few months and the scale and the type of questioning is more aggressive. ‘Tell your relatives to stop working for this channel’ and so on.”

He added: “The IRGC get in through proxies – they don’t leave a paper trail”.

The regime has killed more than a hundred dissidents across Europe since 1980, including the former PM Shapour Bakhtiar.

In 2018 a terror plot to blow up an NCRI Free Iran rally in Paris, attended by the Sunday Express, was narrowly thwarted by Belgian and French security services.

Its mastermind, Iran’s European spy chief Assadollah Assadi – who worked as a diplomat in the Viennese embassy – was jailed for 20 years, but released by Belgian authorities in 2023 to return to Iran.

Last night Iran International backed calls to “to confront and deter the regime in Tehran from expanding its malign activities.”

A spokesman for Scotland Yard said that, while the motive for the attack was unclear, “the Iranian regime in the recent past had tried to harm Iran International and its journalists for their coverage of Iran, and the platform it provides to critics and human rights activists”.

Mr Baillie added “The fact that counter-terrorism is leading the investigation probably speaks for itself.”

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