Wednesday, June 12, 2024

UK Investigates Iranian-backed Islamist Incitement

NewsUK Investigates Iranian-backed Islamist Incitement
Islamists and leftists made common cause against Israel at a rally in London on January 13. (Photo Hannah Baldock)

Recent events in the British House of Commons demonstrate what happens when Islamists are permitted to intimidate elected representatives and undermine the democratic process. The action by Speaker of the Commons Lindsay Hoyle earlier this month, in which he abandoned parliamentary procedure in a debate on a Gaza ceasefire following physical threats to MPs, was a shameful concession to coercion. The Islamist mobs now visible on Britain’s streets did not, however, arrive from nowhere. They are, to a great extent, the product of long-standing and insidious radicalization efforts by a variety of well-organized, sometimes state-backed Islamist bodies, as a series of investigations now under way demonstrates.

The UK Charities Commission is currently investigating three events during which members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) incited British Muslims by calling for Israel’s destruction. The events, one in person and two online, which took place in 2020 and 2021, have raised concerns among members of Parliament that the IRGC, a security branch of the Iranian state, is radicalizing U.K. Muslims. Details regarding these events cast a light on the methods used by the IRGC as it seeks to raise support for the Islamist regime in Tehran among Muslim communities in the west.

Everyone should be horrified by what they’re seeing in those videos.

Alicia Kearns, chair of the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee

The investigations, prompted by alerts about the events by the U.S.-based research group Campaign Against a Nuclear Iran, come weeks after the U.K.  government sanctioned members of an IRGC unit that tried in October 2022 to assassinate two presenters at Iran International, a London-based Persian language TV station. The targeted presenters had extensively covered the 2022 anti-regime demonstrations in Iran that followed the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, in IRGC custody. Amini was arrested for wearing an “improper hijab.” Security services have warned Iran is inciting violence and plotting to kidnap or kill people on British soil. Britain has identified at least 15 credible threats by Iran to kill Britons or British residents since the start of 2022.

Firstly, the Charity Commission is investigating the Al Tawheed Charitable Trust, controller of the Kanoon Towhid religious meeting hall in Hammersmith, West London, part of a network of mosques, religious colleges, schools, and prayer halls across Britain that owe their allegiance to Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. The investigation relates to “serious concerns over the misuse of charity premises” due to “anti-Semitic chants” at a January 2020 in-person event organized at Kanoon Towhid to honor the memory of IRGC General Qassem Soleimani, the Quds force chief killed in January 2020 strike ordered by the U.S. for his role in fomenting terrorism abroad. In footage of the event, attendees can be heard chanting “Death to Israel” in chorus with an unknown speaker.

The two other events took place online featuring talks live-streamed from Iran. The speakers were former and active IRGC commanders, some of whom who are sanctioned by Britain for human rights abuses, having played key roles in crushing of dissent in Iran. The talks, videos of which have been verified by the BBC, were promoted in advance by the Islamic Students Associations of Britain (ISA) founded to promote the philosophy of the leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini.

IRGC Commander Saeed Ghasemi incited hostility toward Israel and Jews at a January 2021 talk under investigation by the U.K. Charity Commission. In Iran, Ghasemi leads a plainclothes unit that attacks critics of the regime. (Photo by Mostafameraji via Wikimedia Commons) 

The first talk was live-streamed from Iran in January 2021 and watched more than 25,000 times online. During the talk, General Saeed Ghasemi, a top commander in the IRGC’s feared plainclothes branch, which hunts down critics of the regime who may be jailed, tortured, or killed, spoke of a cataclysmic conflict against Jews. In the footage of this talk, Ghasemi is recording declaring, “You killed Qassem,” referring to the U.S, “but he shattered into millions of hearts in the Islamic world. You can no longer stand in his way.”

Ghasemi also declared that “God willing, myself and you good students in Europe will be written in the beautiful list of the soldiers of the resistance from tonight” and that the Holocaust was “a lie and a fake.” He also speaks of an apocalyptic war that the British students could join to “bring an end to the life of the oppressors and occupiers, Zionists and Jews across the world.”

The second virtual event investigated by the Charity Commission was broadcast on Instagram Live in September 2020. The video, which has been viewed about 1,500 times, is an address by Hosein Yekta, a current commander of the IRGC’s “Plain Clothes” division. The Jewish Chronicle reported that in the talk, Yekta claimed Jews “created homosexuality” and urges his audience to “raise the flag of the Islamic revolution, Islam and martyrdom.” Students should see themselves as “holy warriors,” he said, promising that the “era of the Jews” would soon be at an end. Yekta also said universities had become “the battlefront” and urged the U.K. students listening to become “soft-war officers.”

Kasra Aarabi, director of IRGC research at the US-based campaign group United Against Nuclear Iran, who shared the videos with the BBC, said “soft-war officers” is a term used by Iran to describe recruits to its ideological battle with the West.

A third additional video of concern seen by the BBC is of a virtual talk to U.K. students in November 2020. The speaker, former IRGC commander Ezzatollah Zarghami, was part of a group of radical students who stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held the Americans as hostages for over a year. Zarghami, now a member of Iran’s hardline cabinet, was sanctioned by the U.K. for his role in broadcasting “forced confessions of detainees and a series of show trials” as head of the country’s state-run TV channel.

The Khomeinist Islamic Students Association, which uses the Kanoon Towhid as a London meeting place, has branches on university campuses in Bradford, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Cambridge. Its chair, Mohammad Hussain Ataee Dolat Abadi, obtained a rare audience in January 2023 with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who praised his activities, which have included live-streaming talks for British students by at least eight high-level IRGC officials and commanders since 2020, the Jewish Chronicle reported.

In response to the news, Alicia Kearns MP, who chairs the U.K. Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, urged the government to make such events illegal, saying that they present “a risk to the stability of our country.”

“It makes me really worried about the state of our society; everyone should be horrified by what they’re seeing in those videos,” she said. “It’s division, it’s hatred. It’s inciting violence. Potentially it’s incredibly serious.”

Hannah Baldock is a UK-based researcher on radicalization and terrorism.  

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