Monday, October 2, 2023

How Tehran Builds Its ‘Soft War’ in the UK

ResearchInvestigationsHow Tehran Builds Its 'Soft War' in the UK

Iranian and pro-Iran regime operatives working in Western democracies are recruiting activists to participate in training sessions in the Islamic Republic. Upon completing their training, these activists return to engage in a “soft” political/propaganda war on Iran’s behalf. It’s all done right out in the open, with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei handing out awards to his supporters in plain sight.

One place where this recruitment takes place is the Islamic Cultural Centre (ICC) in Manchester, England. The process is led by Farrokh Bahram Sekaleshfar, a well-known operative for the regime and a Khamenei supporter. Sekaleshfar, who studied in the holy Shia city of Qom, Iran, has sworn his allegiance to Islamic Republic founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in a letter to an Iranian website that distributes Khomeini’s writings and works.

In the undated letter, Sekaleshfar praises, “the greatness of Imam Khomeini” and requests copies of Khomeini’s writings be sent to him in London. “I like to read his books, poems, speeches, and religious articles,” he writes. He closes the letter saying, “I can use books and tapes to introduce my beloved Imam Khomeini to my Sunni brothers and non-Muslim neighbors.”

According to the Jewish Chronicle, Sekaleshfar has given keynote speeches at official regime events in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Sekaleshfar spoke for a regime-sponsored award ceremony in Qom, Iran in 2020, held for the best “Soft War” officers.

As the audience chanted “Death to America, Death to Israel, Death to England,” Sekaleshfar approached the stage to deliver his keynote address. Alongside Sekaleshfar stood Ayatollah Mohsen Araki, a former director of the Islamic Centre of England and now a member of the powerful Assembly of Experts that appoints Iran’s next Supreme Leader. The best “Soft War” students and recruits received rewards of large pictures of Iran’s Supreme Leader alongside former Revolutionary Guards and Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, the Jewish Chronicle reported. 

“Soft War” recruitment ceremony in Qom, Iran. (Screenshot from video of ceremony from source in Iran.)

On January 3, 2023, the third anniversary of Soleimani’s death, Sekaleshfar again delivered the keynote speech for a regime event in Qom. Behind Sekaleshfar hung a huge poster of Soleimani and Abu Mahdi Al-Mohandes, both killed by a US drone strike in January 2020. At the memorial service, Sekaleshfar read out Soleimani’s last testament. The audience wept as they listened to the reading, which closed by claiming “Good faith in Islam means loyalty to Iran’s Supreme Leader.”

Sekaleshfar’s extremism is well-documented. In June 2016, the Australian government sent him home to the UK in the middle of a speaking tour, taking away his visa in the aftermath of the Pulse Gay Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida during which 49 people were killed and 53 were injured. In 2013, Sekaleshfar gave a sermon in Michigan during which he asserted “the punishment for gays in Islam was categorically death.” Ominously enough, Sekaleshfar had been in Orlando the month before the shooting, but he was never implicated in the attack, perpetrated by Omar Mateen, who had sworn allegiance to ISIS while speaking to police over the phone during the attack.

The stage at the memorial service for Soleimani where Farrokh Bahram Sekaleshfar spoke in Qom, Iran earlier this year. (Screenshot from Association of English-Speaking Islamic Seminary Students, Holy City of Qom.)

According to sources in Iran speaking with FWI, Sekaleshfar’s activism in both Iran and the West is part of a larger campaign in which the regime hand-picks recruits from the UK and other countries in the West. These recruits are then sent to Iran for training to then return to their original domiciles to promote Iran’s brand of political Islam to Muslims living in Western democracies. Sources who know Sekaleshfar from his time in Iran say he operates within a circle responsible for English-language propaganda deployed by Khamenei’s office in Tehran.

IT Consultant Peter Moore who was kidnapped in Iraq and held captive for two and a half years by pro-Iran militia forces who murdered his four security guards — all British nationals — warns that UK leaders must pay closer attention to Iranian influence operations like those led by Sekaleshfar.

“The influence of Iran within the UK is directly affecting British citizens due to their funding of operations which undermine core British values,” Moore told FWI “Additionally, the continuous Iranian backing of Russia in the Ukraine war is directly causing higher fuel costs within the UK. Iran’s operations within the UK allow for them to fundraise and use this money to fund recruitment operations across the UK.”

Responding to FWI, Farrokh Sekaleshfar said “Yes there was one event wherein soft war officers were rewarded for their efforts. The protection of the Islamic Republic of Iran is the most mandatory of mandatory duties. Every Muslim has a share on a par with their potential and status quo to accomplish and execute their due. When the Islamic Republic is being attacked wrongfully by the media, media specialists must counteract and silence in this regard is on a par with oppression.”

Potkin Azarmehr is a London-based investigative journalist, business intelligence analyst, and TV documentary maker who was born in Iran.

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