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Albania shows the West how to deal with Iran

By Struan Stevenson
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has ended diplomatic relations with Iran after a cyberattack. File Photo by Peter Foley/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/b5699d097eafc9bdc696945ef7d49184/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has ended diplomatic relations with Iran after a cyberattack. File Photo by Peter Foley/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 20 (UPI) -- A devastating 13-page report by the Microsoft Detection and Response Team has revealed that cyberattacks this year, which crippled government security services and institutions in Albania, were the work of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Albania has been a member of NATO since 2009 and immediately secured widespread support from NATO allies around the world who joined the condemnation of Iran for the reckless attack. The Microsoft report traced the origin of the cyberattacks directly to the Ministry of Intelligence and Security in Tehran and highlighted how the mullahs' regime had targeted the Albanian government because of their anger at the presence of Ashraf 3, the headquarters of the Iranian resistance, the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran, MEK, in Durres County, 19 miles west of the capital city Tirana.

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The Albanian government agreed to host more than 3,000 Iranian dissidents when they were airlifted to Tirana in 2016, after repeated deadly attacks on their camps -- Ashraf 1 and 2 in Iraq, aided and abetted by the Iranian regime. Ashraf 3 was built by the MEK on previously undeveloped farmland and has grown into a small city. A major summit meeting in Ashraf 3, involving invited political leaders from America, Europe and many other countries, was cancelled by the Albanian government at the last moment in July, when terrorist threats were uncovered and the cyberattack occurred.

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Following the Microsoft revelations, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama severed relations with Iran and ordered the closure of the Iranian Embassy, giving diplomatic and security staff 24 hours to leave the country. Rama said, "The government has decided with immediate effect to end diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. This extreme response is fully proportionate to the gravity and risk of the cyberattack that threatened to paralyze public services, erase digital systems and hack into state records, steal government Intranet electronic communication and stir chaos and insecurity in the country."

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Several MOIS agents and their Albanian collaborators were arrested, and others were prevented from entering the country. There has been widespread praise for the Albanian government's decisive action from the West, with America even sanctioning the MOIS and its leadership, while NATO and the European Union denounced the attack and supported Albania's move.

The closure of the Iran's embassy in Albania followed the earlier expulsion of the Iranian ambassador and first secretary in December 2018, after a planned bomb attack on the MEK was uncovered by the Albanian security service. The terrorist plot echoed the arrest in Europe in the summer of 2018 of an Iranian diplomat for attempting to bomb a mass rally of Iranian opposition supporters at Villepinte near Paris.

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Assadollah Assadi was a senior MOIS agent. He was using the cover of being a diplomat in the Iranian Embassy in Vienna to enable him to plan a terrorist bomb attack that would have caused carnage on European soil, potentially killing hundreds of men, women and children. Evidence from the Belgian prosecutor showed how Assadi had allegedly brought the professionally assembled 550 gm TATP bomb on a commercial flight to Vienna from Tehran in his diplomatic pouch and passed it, together with an envelope containing €22,000, to two co-conspirators. The court in Antwerp was told that Assadi had instructed them how to prime and detonate the device.

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A third co-conspirator was posted at the Villepinte rally as a lookout. All four have been sentenced to long terms of imprisonment in Belgium.

The trial of the Iranian diplomat Assadi was simply the tip of a massive terrorist iceberg. The theocratic regime has used its embassies as terror cells and bomb factories for decades, perpetrating bomb attacks, murders, kidnappings and cyberattacks around the world. Revelations by the U.S. government this summer that the Iranian regime had plotted to assassinate President Donald Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demonstrated once again how the Islamic Republic is like a dangerous, wounded animal, lashing out to preserve its existence.

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According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Shahram Poursafi, an agent of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was offered $300,000 to "eliminate" Bolton. Poursafi is still at large.

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But while the West has congratulated Rama for his tough stance against the mullahs' criminal regime, bizarrely, the Belgian government has signed a new treaty with Iran to facilitate an exchange of prisoners. Apparently, prisoners of Iranian nationality in Belgium and prisoners of Belgian nationality in Iran will be exchanged and allowed to serve their prison sentences in their respective home countries. Clearly, the intention of this treaty, from the Iranian perspective, will be the release of Assadi and his three co-conspirators, who will be treated as heroes and possibly promoted when they return to Iran.

Their release from prison in Belgium would make a complete mockery of European justice and send the clearest signal to the Iranian regime that they can conduct terrorist attacks in Europe with impunity. Indeed, they may even be encouraged to take further European hostages to hold as bargaining chips for future prisoner exchanges.

This scandalous treaty and prisoner exchange must be stopped. Indeed, the EU should take a leaf out of Albania's book and order the closure of Iran's embassies and the expulsion of their diplomatic staff and MOIS agents. The exposure of the Iranian regime's embassies as terrorist centers will sound the death knell for faltering efforts to restore the deeply flawed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Iran nuclear deal, signed by U.S. President Barack Obama in 2015 and abandoned unilaterally by Trump in 2018. Desperate efforts to relaunch the deal have been led by the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs & Security, Josep Borrell, who has been criticized by many as an arch appeaser of the mullahs' regime.

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In the light of events in Albania, Borrell may be forced to think again.

Struan Stevenson is the coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change. He was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), president of the Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and chairman of the Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14). He is an international lecturer on the Middle East and president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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