The United States Department of Justice released indictments on 8 June 2017 for two operatives of the jihadist terrorist organisation, Hizballah, the Lebanese branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is tasked with exporting the Islamist revolution in Iran through terrorism, subversion, and other means. The two men, Ali Kourani of New York and Samer al-Debek of Michigan, had been arrested on 1 June, and are charged with conducting surveillance for potential future terrorist attacks in the United States.
There has been a tendency of late to downplay the threat of Iran’s global terrorist apparatus to the West—despite a series of plots and atrocities in Europe and America in just the last five years—and to regard “Sunni” terrorism as the real problem, against which Iran might even be an ally. These indictments serve to underline how mistaken is the view that Iran is a counter-terrorism partner. The larger requirement is to remove counter-terrorism as a foreign policy doctrine: Iran’s strategic challenge in the Middle East considerably outstrips the problems of even the most powerful non-state actors like the Islamic State (IS). Tehran has used its de facto partnership with the anti-IS coalition to expand its power in the region, to the detriment of the West, a cure worse than the disease.
The criminal complaint against Ali Mohamad Kourani, who also used the names “Jacob Lewis” and “Daniel” at various points, charges him with: (1) providing material support to a terrorist organisation (Hizballah); (2) conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organisation; (3) receiving military-type training from terrorists and (4) conspiring to receive military-type training from terrorists; (5) conspiracy to possess and use machine guns and destructive devices and to do so in relation to violent crimes; (6) making or receiving funds, goods, and/or services from Hizballah; (7) conspiracy to make or receive funds, goods, and/or services from Hizballah; and (8) unlawful procurement of citizenship or naturalization to facilitate an act of international terrorism.
Kourani entered the United States in 2003, and was working as a sleeper agent of the Islamic Jihad Organization (IJO), also known as the “External Security Organisation” and “910”, the “component of Hizballah responsible for the planning, preparation, and execution of intelligence, counterintelligence, and terrorist activities outside of Lebanon”, when he was arrested.
While in the U.S., Kourani “obtained a Bachelor of Science in biomedical engineering in 2009, and a Masters of Business Administration in 2013”, the Justice Department complaint notes. Kourani became a naturalised U.S. citizen on 15 April 2009.
Kourani had received training in “tradecraft, weapons, and military tactics” from Hizballah and IJO specifically from about the year 2000 in Lebanon, where his handler remained after Kourani moved to America. Kourani was only 16-years-old at the time, but he was able to attend this “45-day Hizballah ‘boot camp’ … because of his family’s connections to a high-ranking Hizballah official named Haider Kourani.” Kourani “considers his family name to be akin to the ‘Bin Ladens of Lebanon,’ and one of his brothers is the ‘face of Hizballah’ in Yatar, Lebanon,” the complaint adds, noting that this training camp gave Kourani experience with “AK-47 assault rifles and rocket launchers, as well as basic military tactics”.
Kourani was in Lebanon during the war Hizballah started with Israel in 2006, and his family home was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike. Kourani returned to the U.S. via Syria.
Kourani was recruited into IJO in January 2008. Kourani himself “considered the IJO to be responsible for ‘black ops’ on behalf of Hizballah and ‘the Iranians’,” and was fully aware that Hizballah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah “operated the IJO and reported directly to Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran.” Kourani was taken to meet IJO officials where he was “asked about his background, religious practices, and travel history, as well as provided with training on topics such as conducting interrogations, resisting interrogations, and surveillance techniques.”
Kourani’s IJO handler was known as “Fadi” and typically wore a mask when they met. It was at Fadi’s prompting—one of his first instructions—that Kourani sought American citizenship, taking out the papers in August 2008 and receiving his passport eight months later. The first trip Kourani took was to China in May 2009, visiting Guangzhou as part of the conspiracy to create nitrate-based bombs that were placed in First Aid ice packs, intended for terrorist attacks in Thailand and Cyprus. In April 2013, as instructed by IJO, Kourani obtained a U.S. passport card, which allowed him to enter the U.S. by land from Mexico or Canada, should his passport be confiscated overseas.
Kourani travelled to Lebanon about once-a-year from 2005 to 2015. “In or about July 2011, Kourani attended a military training camp in the vicinity of Birkat Jabrur, Lebanon, which was operated by Hizballah’s Islamic Jihad Organization,” the complaint documents. At the camp, Kourani “was provided with military-tactics and weapons training”.
“Principally responsible for conducting IJO intelligence-gathering and surveillance activities,” Kourani specifically “conducted surveillance of U.S. military and intelligence outposts in New York City, as well as airports in New York City and another country, in support of anticipated terrorist attacks by Hizballah’s Islamic Jihad Organization.” Kourani did this “[f]rom at least in or about 2009, up to and including in or about September 2015”.
After noting that Kourani’s internet searches showed his interest in Hizballah’s “martyrs” in Syria, those jihadists fighting to save Bashar al-Asad’s regime, and also overlapped conspicuously with Hizballah/Iran terrorist operations in the Mediterranean, the complaint documents the tradecraft Kourani used and expands on what it was he surveilled:
Fadi directed KOURANI to surveil and collect information regarding military and intelligence targets in the New York City area. In response to this tasking, KOURANI conducted physical surveillance of the following targets: (i) a U.S. government facility, which includes FBI offices, in Manhattan, New York; (ii) an U.S. Army National Guard facility in Manhattan, New York; (iii) a U.S. Secret Service facility in Brooklyn, New York; and (iv) a U.S. Army Armory facility in Manhattan, New York … KOURANI used his phone to videotape activity around at least one of these surveillance targets, transferred the video footage to a memory card, and brought the memory card to Fadi and other IJO personnel in Lebanon. KOURANI also used the Internet to obtain images of at least one of these surveillance targets, and he provided the images to Fadi and other IJO personnel in Lebanon. …
Fadi directed KOURANI to surveil and collect information regarding airports, including the layout of terminals, the locations of cameras and personnel, and other security features. In response, KOURANI provided detailed information to Fadi regarding specific security protocols; baggage-screening and collection practices; and the locations of surveillance cameras, security personnel, law enforcement officers, and magnetometers at JFK and an international airport in another country.
Kourani conducted internet searches to scope out LaGuardia Airport in Queens, New York, as well.
At Fadi’s behest, Kourani cultivated contacts that could supply firearms—though IJO rejected them as unreliable—and obtained surveillance equipment (drones, night-vision goggles, high-powered cameras) so that IJO could replicate the technology and produce their own.
Fadi directed KOURANI to cultivate contacts in the New York City area who could provide firearms for use in potential future IJO operations in the United States. KOURANI brought Fadi a list of individuals he believed could supply firearms, but Fadi rejected the candidates as unreliable.
Additionally, Kourani was tasked with identifying anyone connected with the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) in the New York area. Kourani “believed that the IJO gave him this tasking to facilitate, among other things, assassinations of IDF personnel in retaliation for the 2008 assassination of Imad Mughniyah, the former leader of the IJO.”
Al-Debek’s criminal complaint lists seven charges against him: (1) providing material support to a terrorist organisation (Hizballah); (2) conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organisation; (3) receiving military-type training from a terrorist group; (4) conspiring to receive military-type training from terrorists; (5) possessing, carrying, and/or using firearms for a violent crime; (6) conspiracy to make or receive funds, goods, or services on behalf of terrorists; and (7) making or receiving funds, goods, or services on behalf of terrorists.
The complaint is not exactly clear on when al-Debek, a naturalised U.S. citizen, joined IJO: at one point it makes reference to July 2006 being “shortly before” al-Debek became a member of IJO, and elsewhere it says he was “first recruited by Hizballah in late 2007 or early 2008”. In either case, al-Debek had been receiving a salary of about $1,000 per month from Hizballah for about a decade by the time he was caught.
Al-Debek began receiving specialist training in firearms and explosives from Hizballah no later than 2009. Such training went on until at least 2014.
Al-Debek “was taught how specifically to target people and buildings”, calculating blast radiuses and “being trained to gather many of the chemicals necessary to create an explosive device, some of which could readily be obtained from hardware stores.” Al-Debek “described in detail how he made explosive devices, including the mixing, drying, and refrigeration of the relevant materials”, and al-Debek explained Hizballah’s preference for remote-detonated bombs. Al-Debek also “said he was told not to try to gather what he called ‘samad,’ an Arabic term which, he later explained, meant ammonium nitrate”.
Between 2009 and 2013, al-Debek was given at least four training sessions on surveillance and counter-surveillance—detecting people following him, using disguises, and so on.
Al-Debek’s first mission for IJO was in May 2009. Al-Debek travelled from Lebanon to Thailand via Malaysia. This was just after al-Debek’s first explosives training session, and his task was to clean up the “explosive precursor materials from a Hizballah safe house” in Bangkok “that was believed to have been compromised” (i.e. come under surveillance by local law-enforcement). Al-Debek met an IJO handler in Malaysia, who provided him with a cover story: al-Debek was “to say he was looking for sex in Thailand”, and he was to hire a prostitute in order to draw out any surveillance on the property.
As the complaint explains at greater length:
According to EL DEBEK, after he arrived in Thailand, he hired a female escort, to whom he gave a key to the house he was to clean up. EL DEBEK reported that he watched her enter the house and saw nothing suspicious. He said that he later went to the house himself and found approximately 50 boxes containing materials sealed in plastic. EL DEBEK said he did not inspect every box, but he believes the majority, if not all, of the boxes contained “samad,” or ammonium nitrate. EL DEBEK described removing the explosive precursors from the house by putting in his rented vehicle as many boxes as he could fit and dumping the remainder of the explosive precursors down the drain. EL DEBEK said that, a day or two later, he received instructions to return the explosive precursors to the house and pay rent to the landlord of the house, which he did. EL DEBEK said he then returned to Malaysia, and then to Lebanon.
Al-Debek then made two trips to Panama on behalf of Hizballah in 2011 and 2012, “where his tasks included gathering information for Hizballah about potential American, Israeli, and Panamanian targets”.
Al-Debek attended a Spanish-language school in Lebanon in late 2010 in preparation for his first trip to Panama. Travelling via Colombia in February 2011, and using the cover story of looking for business opportunities, al-Debek’s “operational taskings included learning to drive in Panama, determining the cost of opening a business, locating the U.S. and Israeli Embassies, and determining how to get to the Panama Canal.” Al-Debek admits that he “was instructed to case and identify security procedures at the Canal and the Israeli Embassy,” though “claimed that his purpose for locating the U.S. Embassy was simply to know its location”. Al-Debek located hardware stores that sold acetone and battery acid, explosive precursors. Al-Debek spent near-exactly a month in Panama, before returning to the United States.
In January 2012, al-Debek returned to Panama, this time “more focused on the Panama Canal. EL DEBEK said Hizballah asked him to identify areas of weakness and construction at the Canal, and provide information about Canal security and how close someone could get to a ship. In doing so, he stated, he took a lot of photographs of the Canal, which he later provided to the IJO. EL DEBEK said he was told to take pictures of the Israeli Embassy, but did not do so because it was not his primary mission and he did not want to put himself at risk.” IJO also wanted pictures and security procedures from the U.S. Embassy, but al-Debek could not get those, as he told his handler when he debriefed in Lebanon. Al-Debek left Panama for the U.S. in February 2012, and then went to Lebanon in March 2012
Al-Debek said Mohamad Hassan el-Husseini, the Hizballah suicide-killer that attacked the bus full of Jewish civilians in Burgas, Bulgaria, in July 2012, was his aunt’s nephew. Al-Debek identified a picture of el-Husseini, and noted that el-Husseini was a member of IJO. Al-Debek argued that Hizballah was different to the Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda because, “unlike those groups, Hizballah does not kill just to kill, and that Hizballah’s actions sometimes are intended to send a political message.” But al-Debek did add that when it came to Israelis it was a different matter: “Israel was always a target of Hizballah”.
Al-Debek’s internet history showed he was deeply invested in Hizballah’s war in Syria, and “regularly conducted searches for the Facebook page of ‘Hamza Fadlalah,’ whose publicly-accessible Facebook page depicts photographs of and tributes to ‘martyrs,’ as well as photographs of Nasrallah”.
In an odd twist, “EL DEBEK claimed that he was detained by Hizballah from approximately December 2015 to approximately April 2016, and accused of spying for the United States. According to EL DEBEK, his Hizballah captors claimed that they knew of his spying before he traveled on his missions, which they claimed were actually ruses to draw attention away from the real operations. EL DEBEK said he told Hizballah, as part of a false confession after repeated interrogations, that he worked for the FBI, CIA, and police; was paid $500,000 for his service to the United States Government; and worked for handlers named Jeff and Michael, names he made up.”
BACKGROUND ON IRANIAN TERRORISM
It can be argued that the Islamic Republic of Iran was born in terrorism: after sweeping into power in February 1979, a month after the Shah had departed Iran on a plane, unwilling to shed blood to retain his throne, Ruhollah Khomeini’s new regime seized the American Embassy in Tehran on 4 November 1979 and held four-dozen hostages for fourteen months.
It was the Khomeini’ists that would bring suicide-terrorism to the modern world stage. In December 1981, the Iranian-directed Iraqi Da’wa Party, having fled a savage crackdown in Saddam Husayn’s Iraq that had murdered their spiritual leader, Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, drove a suicide truck bomb into the Iraqi Embassy in Beirut, massacring sixty-one people, including the Iraqi Ambassador, Abdul Razzak Lafta, and wounding one-hundred others.
It was in Lebanon that IRGC would lay down its firmest roots, creating Hizballah, led by Imad Mughniya and publicly using the name “Islamic Jihad” in the early years. In November 1982, Hizballah would send a fifteen-year-old boy, Ahmad Qasir, to blow himself up and demolish an Israeli outpost in Tyre. This “self-martyr” attack was the prototype for Hizballah/Iran’s more infamous, larger-scale suicide-atrocities in Lebanon, against the U.S. Embassy (in April 1983 and again in September 1984) and the Marine barracks for the international forces in October 1983.
Via both Iraqi Da’wa and Lebanese Hizballah operatives, Iran attacked Embassies, airports, and chemical plants in Kuwait in December 1983, using suicide bombers and rigged charges; had the latter worked properly, this coordinated assault might have been one of the deadliest attacks in modern history. Seventeen of Iran’s jihadists were captured—most notably Jamal al-Ibrahimi (Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis)—and these captives served as a rallying-point and pretext for further attacks. The “Kuwait 17” were the professed cause when another Hizballah suicide-bomber tried to kill the Kuwaiti Emir in May 1985.
In Lebanon throughout the 1980s, Hizballah kidnapped and assassinated dozens of Western citizens, most of them Americans, actions that meet standard definition of terrorism since they were intended—and, in the case of France succeeded—in altering the policy of Western governments. David Dodge, the acting president of the American University of Beirut (AUB), was kidnapped in July 1982. Dodge’s replacement at AUB, Malcolm Kerr, was struck down in January 1984. The CIA station chief, William Buckley, was kidnapped in March 1984 and murdered in June 1985, having given up the entire CIA network to Iran under torture. William Higgins, an American Marine with the international forces, was abducted in February 1988 and murdered in July 1990. The Associated Press’ Terry Anderson was abducted in 1985 and held until 1991. The ABC News chief Middle East correspondent Charles Glass was taken in June 1987 and managed to escape two months later. Terry Waite, a British citizen, was captured in 1985 and released in 1991.
The assassinations were by no means confined to Lebanon. Ali Akbar Tabatabaei, the former press attaché at the U.S. Embassy of the Iranian Imperial Government, was shot down in Maryland in July 1980 in one of the first acts of jihadi terrorism in the West. Gholam Ali Oveissi, the Shah’s final Army commander, was assassinated in Paris by Iran in 1984. Saudi diplomatic facilities were attacked in Pakistan, Thailand, and Turkey in 1988, with at least one Saudi diplomat killed by Hizballah that October. Ehud Sadan, the security chief at the Israeli Embassy in Ankara, was killed in a car bombing by Hizballah in March 1992.
Picking up where its PLO progenitors left off, IRGC/Hizballah took its terrorism global. Planes were hijacked. TWA Flight 847 was hijacked by Hizballah shortly after it took off in Greece on the morning of 14 June 1985. After a circuitous route through Algeria, the plane was landed in Beirut and passengers with Jewish-sounding names were separated out from the rest, as Hizballah demanded Israel release nearly 1,000 Palestinian and Lebanese terrorists. When they refused, Hizballah set upon Robert Stethem, 23, a U.S. Navy diver. “He was kicked repeatedly in the ribs. He was beaten repeatedly on the head with the butt of a pistol. He was also clubbed with a broken armrest that had a sharp, protruding screw,” said a later lawsuit. “He remained alive and continued to scream in agony for several minutes.” Finally, he was shot in the head and thrown out of the plane, falling almost nine feet onto the tarmac below. Other planes, like Arrow Air Flight 1285, carrying nearly 250 members of the 101st Airborne Division from Cairo in December 1985, or Alas Chiricanas Flight 901 that had mostly Jewish passengers from Panama in July 1994, were simply blown up by Hizballah/Iran.
In April 1985, Hizballah blew up El Descanso, a nightclub in Madrid frequented by U.S. military personnel, killing eighteen people. Three months later, Hizballah claimed a twin bombing in Copenhagen targeting Jews that killed one and injured two-dozen. In March 1992, Iran/Hizballah blew up the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, and a second attack in the city in July 1994 targeted the Jewish community centre, the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) headquarters. These two suicide attacks in Argentina killed 115 people and wounded more than 500 others. The Israeli Embassy in London was struck the same month as AMIA. In June 1996, Iran, through Hizballah, orchestrated, in collusion with al-Qaeda, the bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, killing nineteen Americans. Iran helped embed al-Qaeda in Bosnia and nearly murdered the CIA station chief in Sarajevo. The 1990s rounded out with Iran providing the expertise to al-Qaeda for the strikes against the U.S.’s East African Embassies and there are still those nagging questions about 9/11 itself.
After 2003, Iran used Hizballah’s Unit 3800 to construct a dizzying web of Shi’a jihadist brigades in Iraq that killed and wounded hundreds of Western soldiers. There is no serious doubt that Hizballah, working with Bashar al-Asad’s secret police, assassinated Lebanese prime minister Rafic Hariri in February 2005—nor that this alliance cut down Samir Kassir, George Hawi, Gebran Tueni, Antoine Ghanem, Wissam al-Hassan, Mohamad Chatah, and so, so many other journalists and politicians who stood against the foreign occupation of their country by Asad and Iran/Hizballah.
In later years, a major Hizballah cell was rolled up in Egypt in April 2009. In February 2012, Hizballah assaulted Israeli diplomatic facilities in India and Georgia, and five months later in July 2012 there came the above mentioned Hizballah suicide-bombing in Bulgaria that killed six people. Iran began supporting the Huthi insurgents in Yemen no later than 2009 and has turned Syria into a bloodbath to keep Asad in power.
Before the revelations about al-Debek and Kourani, probably the most audacious Iranian action in America was to try, via a Mexican cartel, to blow up the Saudi ambassador in Washington, DC, something that became public in October 2011. There have been a number of Iran/Hizballah agents arrested in America for planning or enabling terrorism. One of the first was Fawzi Assi. When Monzer al-Kassar was arrested in 2007, he was accused of illegal arms dealing to FARC among others to raise money for Hizballah, and his conviction demonstrates a conspiracy to kill Americans. The warlord Viktor Bout arrested the next year had similar designs. Hizballah’s abuse of the banking system, in Canada in this case, was exposed in 2011.
The banking case hinted at a larger problem. Hizballah is entrenched in America and the Western Hemisphere more broadly, making millions of dollars every year from organised crime, narcotics of course but also benefiting from things as simple as credit card scams, to fund its global terrorism and Iran’s regional subversion against U.S. allies. The brief flutter of attention about this in early 2016 was, as we now know, the final roll of the dice from a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) exasperated over the Obama administration’s efforts to block its work as part of the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear deal with Iran, which contained as an unwritten condition the release of some of the few Iranian agents that had been taken into custody.
The willingness of the Obama administration to make a deal as bad as the JCPOA was because its intention was to re-align the region, to tilt toward Iran and leave a new, self-policing “equilibrium” the U.S. wouldn’t have to be so deeply involved in. From Iraq to Lebanon, where “American intelligence shared with the [Lebanese] army”, a subordinate institution to Hizballah, to the grotesque case of Syria and as far afield as Afghanistan, U.S. policy was reoriented to allow Iran more space. With the above-outlined history, it is surprising anybody ever thought this was a good idea, and with the arrest of al-Debek and Kourani it can be fairly said the moderating and stabilising thesis that apparently motivated giving Tehran so much more room has fallen.
UPDATE: Saeed Karimian, the owner of Gem TV, a network of television channels that broadcasts in Farsi and other languages, was shot dead in Istanbul on 29 April 2017, three months after an Iranian court had sentenced him in absentia to six years in prison for spreading propaganda against the regime. Karimian’s media output was mostly entertainment programs like soap operas, but for the Iranian regime such things are considered more dangerous than open political antagonism. Supreme Leader Ali Khamene’i believes that the West is engaged in a “cultural invasion”, intended to foment a “soft” counter-revolution by weakening the population’s commitment to religious militancy, tempting them away into hedonism and decadence.
UPDATE (10 Oct. 2017): The State Department announced the first additions of Hizballah members to the “Rewards for Justice” program, offering up to $7 million for information leading to the capture of Talal Hamiya and up to $5 million for Fuad Shukr. Nathan Sales, the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, explained that Hamiya “leads Hizballah’s international terrorist unit, the so-called ‘External Security Organization,’ which is responsible for planning and conducting terrorist attacks outside of Lebanon”, and Shukr is “a senior military commander of Hizballah’s forces in Lebanon”, “a member of the Jihad Council, Hizballah’s highest military body”, “plays a key role in Hizballah’s military operations in Syria, and he helped plan and launch the 1983 attack on the U.S. Marine Corps barracks”.
UPDATE (8 Nov. 2017): In the Netherlands, Ahmad Mola Nissi, 52, the leader of an Iranian opposition group, the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz (ASMLA), was shot dead in The Hague. ASMLA advocates for the secession of the Arab-majority Khuzestan province from Iran, and ASMLA’s armed wing, the Mohiuddin al-Nasser Martyrs Brigade, has claimed to carry out insurgent attacks in the area, as recently as January.
UPDATE (7 Dec. 2017): In Argentina, a Federal judge indicted former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner on treason charges and requested that her immunity as a sitting Senator be lifted so she could be arrested. Fernandez is accused of covering up the Iranian role in the AMIA bombing in exchange for a trade deal. In office, Fernandez, a Peronist, aligned with the anti-American, Leftist “Bolivarian” governments in the Western Hemisphere, notably Venezuela, which have cultivated ties with Iran. The Argentine government has arrested three of Fernandez’s former aides, and placed Fernandez’s former foreign minister, Héctor Timerman, who is also implicated in the indictment, under house arrest. The investigation into Fernandez’s wrongdoing began under Alberto Nisman, who was found dead on 18 January 2015, the very day he was set to testify to the Argentine Parliament about Fernandez’s misdeeds, in what has now been confirmed as a murder. Nisman’s initial report in 2013 helped shed light on Iran’s by-then vast presence in the Americas, and Fernandez’s role in hiding this from regional states.
UPDATE (18 Dec. 2017): Josh Meyer reported for Politico on the Obama administration having alleviated pressure on Hizballah’s global criminal enterprises. Many of Hizballah’s revenue-generating schemes involved narcotics trafficking, but their operations that got a free pass under Obama included: corruption and terrorism inside the U.S. itself; support, in collaboration with the Russian government, of Asad’s war machine; financing Unit 3800 that jointly runs with IRGC the Iranian proxy militias in Iraq that have killed dozens of Western soldiers; assisting Iran in proliferating weapons of mass destruction; and destabilising numerous states from the Middle East to Latin America. This was part of the price Obama paid for the Iran nuclear deal.
UPDATE (19 Dec. 2017): Bulgarian journalist Ruslan Trad wrote about the Iran/Hizballah presence in his country and the Balkan region:
The Balkans, for Iran, has proved to be important … Firstly, there is Bosnia, a country that Iran established a foothold in during the 1992-1995 war. … It adapted the sympathetic networks it had created gained influence in different sections of society. The local security and law enforcement agencies were and continue to be woefully under-prepared to deal with a sophisticated actor like Iran. … [Iran’s] operatives travel with passports from Western countries, permitting greater latitude for avoiding suspicion from local authorities. For example, the men wanted for the [July 2012] Sarafovo bombing [in Bulgaria] used Australian and Canadian documents. …
A Hezbollah member who I spoke to recently in Bulgaria revealed a few details to me. Hezbollah networks in Bulgaria and other Balkan countries are mostly made up of Lebanese citizens who arrive as students or businesspersons. Some students receive financial help from Hezbollah to complete their education, and then either return to Lebanon or stay in Bulgaria. If they stay, some of them can become operatives for the movement’s purposes.
Some of the students or businessmen arriving in the Balkans have been linked to Hezbollah in Lebanon or have been full members with military training. When they arrive, they can spend months or even years, living a normal civilian life, even starting families. For example, some of them are married to Bulgarian citizens. Their main task is to gather information not only about Israeli presence in any given country, but also information about the state itself and its relations.
There are two main places for meetings in Bulgaria—in the coastal city of Varna and the capital of Sofia. As Hezbollah is a partner of the Syrian government, there are even Syrians involved in the movement’s networks. …
A recent German intelligence report said 950 Hezbollah members are operating in the Federal Republic.
EU member states are divided on Hezbollah. The movement has been proscribed in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom but other members, notably France, have been reluctant to follow suit.
UPDATE (16 Jan. 2018): Germany conducted a series of raids across the country related to ten suspected Iranian spies. “We believe the suspects spied on institutions and persons in Germany at the behest of an intelligence unit associated with Iran,” spokesman Stefan Biehl told The Associated Press. The suspects are almost certainly members of the Quds Force: they were watching Israeli and pro-Israeli individuals and groups, while trying to recruit non-Iranian Shi’is with European citizenship to carry out terrorist attacks on the Continent against Jewish and Israeli targets. These raids came a week after Mustufa Haidar Syed-Naqvi, a Pakistani who was arrested in 2016, was convicted of spying for Iran, gathering information on potential assassination targets, including Reinhold Robbe, a former Social Democratic MP and the head of the German-Israeli Society. Berlin suggests that the raids were linked to its own domestic counter-intelligence process related to Syed-Naqvi, but Israel says the MOSSAD provided key intelligence.
UPDATE (2 July 2018): Four operatives of the Iranian government were arrested for having plotted to bomb the 30 June conference in Paris organised by the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK), the Marxist-Islamist cult opposed to the Iranian regime that operates in Europe through a front called the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). President Donald Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, spoke at the MEK conference, an event attended by thirty-two former American government or military officials. Those arrested included a married Belgian couple of Iranian extraction; a Vienna-based Iranian diplomat, Assadollah Asadi, in Germany; and a man named only as Merhad A. in France. Two further arrests were later made. Asadi had contracted the Belgian couple to blow up the MEK conference and provided them a device containing 500 grams of TATP explosive, which they had in their possession when their car was stopped by Belgian special forces. Asadi was stripped of his diplomatic status after being identified as an agent of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence, previously known as VEVAK, and was extradited by Germany to Belgium to stand trial for terrorism. These arrests occurred just before Iranian president Hassan Rowhani was heading to Europe to try to salvage the Iran nuclear deal. Iran’s foreign minister, Muhammad Javad Zarif, tweeted in response: “How convenient: just as we embark on a presidential visit to Europe, an alleged Iranian operation and its ‘plotters’ arrested. Iran unequivocally condemns all violence and terror anywhere, and is ready to work with all concerned to uncover what is a sinister false flag ploy.” After a thorough investigation, France concluded that “without any doubt … responsibility fell on the Iranian intelligence ministry” for this attempted attack, ordered by Iran’s director-general of intelligence, Saeid Hashemi Moghadam, who answers directly to Supreme Leader Ali Khamene’i.
UPDATED (2 Oct. 2018): In France, police raided the (Shi’a) Islamic “Zahra Centre” in Dunkirk and several other locations. The Centre and its leader, Yahia Gouasmi, are known for advocating Islamist extremism and having deep ties to Iran. Eleven people were arrested, three of whom were charged with illegal firearm possession.
UPDATED (30 Oct. 2018): In Denmark, the government announced that the Iran regime planned to assassinate the leader of the Danish branch of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz (ASMLA). On 28 September, Danish police shut two major bridges to traffic and halted ferry services from Denmark to Sweden and Germany in a nationwide police operation to prevent an attack. A few days earlier, a Norwegian citizen of Iranian extraction had been observed as he carried out reconnaissance, including taking pictures, of the home of the ASMLA leader in Denmark; this operative was arrested in Sweden on 21 October and extradited to Denmark.
 The Nizari Ismailis, better known as “The Assassins”, would ceremonially kill their victims with a dagger, meaning they had to get close to their target and were usually killed, at a time when other weapons such as the cross-bow were available. This is not quite suicide, regarded as religiously forbidden by the Nizaris, and that their cult and its polity was effectively destroyed in the late thirteenth century means that “modern” would not apply.
In the same vein, Ignacy Hryniewiecki, who murdered the Russian Emperor, Alexander II, in March 1881, clearly intended to die in the attempt, but it was not suicide in the same way: he threw an explosive device at the Tsar and made no effort to get out of the blast zone.
Nearer to the modern phenomenon of suicide bombing are two Buddhist examples.
One is the use of gansi dui (“dare-to-die corps”; more loosely, “suicide squads”) by some of the insurgents who toppled Qing dynasty, the final Imperial House in China, in 1912. The gansi dui were more like what jihadists would call, not istishhadiyeen (“martyrs”; suicide bombers), but inghimasiyeen. A simple translation for inghimasiyeen is difficult; informally, “shock troops” or “ready-to-die squads” have been tried. The literal meaning of an inghimasi is a fighter who, while lightly armed, “plunges [behind enemy lines]”, and the connotation is clearly that there will be no return; he will fight until he is overcome, whether in battle or because he has run out of ammunition.
The most exact analogy for modern suicide-terrorism is the Japanese Emperor’s use of Zen Buddhist kamikaze pilots during the Second World War. About 4,000 Japanese people immolated themselves in 1944-45 as part of the kamikaze squads, officially known as the Tokubetsu Kogekitai (Special Attack Unit).
The other groups that have used suicide bombing all began after Iran’s assets: the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) started in 1987; Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) first adopted the tactic in 1989; the Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS) carried out its first suicide-attack in 1993; and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) began in 1994. Most of these groups were either inspired or actually trained by Hizballah—as was al-Qaeda—in the use of suicide bombing.