Intelligence agencies are searching for members of a secret Iranian network of assassins under orders to attack Jewish, Israeli and Western targets in Turkey.
According to intelligence sources, the organisation behind the attack is known as Unit 400, a secret part of the al Quds Brigade, which falls under the direct command of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader.
“Unit 400 of the Qods Force has been developing in the last few months a standing operating procedure for carrying out an attack in Turkey against western targets as well as Israeli and Jewish. It is our firm assessment that these procedures are in a very advanced stage, and that the intention is to act on the plans very soon,” an intelligence source told Sky News.
There is also evidence that Unit 400 has been given instructions to carry out more frequent and more daring ‘terror’ attacks around the world as a demonstration of ‘Iran’s asymmetric power’ – in the face of the growing threat of Israeli or American air strikes on its alleged nuclear weapons programme, the sources said.
The sources named a senior officer in Unit 400 as being a key Iranian agent who “has been working up plans for potential attacks in European countries”.
Israel and the United States have repeatedly said that Iran would not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. Israel’s Prime Minister,Binyamin Netanyahu, has also warned that the window for launching military strikes to destroy it is closing fast.
Intelligence services in the West and Middle East, where Iran is treated with deep suspicion for its support of Syria, may have an interest in painting Iran in a poor light and associating it with international terrorism as a means of building the case for military intervention against its alleged weapons programme.
But it is equally likely that intelligence organisations want to warn their political masters of the dangers of backing an attack against Tehran, which has made no secret of its plans to carry out revenge operations.
“Unit 400 is a top-secret “special ops” unit within the elite overseas wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force (IRGC-QF). It plans and carries out terror attacks on external targets, and provides material support to foreign militia groups, at the direct behest of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. This is in accordance with the regime’s core strategic considerations about how best to challenge perceived enemies in Israel and the west – through asymmetric warfare – and to cope with mounting international pressure over its nuclear programme,” a secret study by a foreign intelligence agency said.
Several international intelligence sources confirmed that Ali Khamenei controlled the Quds Force through his close ally Qassem Suleiman.
“He runs the whole thing – directly. [Mahmoud] Ahmedinajad [the Iranian president] makes all the noise and gets the attention but it’s the Supreme Leader who is in charge of what is going on especially when it comes to international operations,” said a senior intelligence official.
Turkey has been the scene of at least two attempts against Israeli targets in recent years – in 2009, 2010, and in 2011 when six Turkish civilians were injured during an attack blamed on Unit 400 on the Israeli consul in Istanbul.
Unit 400 is also identified in the document as being behind the failed plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to Washington using Mexican drug mafia last year.
The commanders of Unit 400 have been identified as Hamed Abdellahi and Majid Alavi who is a former deputy minister in Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security.
“[The] Supreme Leader makes a decision to conduct an attack, the Unit activates a cell to perform it and recruits foreign agents as required… Training is sometimes given in Iran, as was the case prior to an attempted attack on the Israeli consul in Istanbul in 2011, and additional countries in the Middle East and Europe are used in order to blur Iran’s connection to the attack,” an intelligence document obtained by Sky says.
Israel, the United Kingdom, and the United States have all been variously blamed by Iranian officials for a series of attacks on its alleged nuclear weapons programme.
These have included the killing of at least four scientists believed to have been part of the nuclear programme, a cyber-attack which crippled centrifuges for refining uranium, and mysterious explosions at rocket facilities.
In what have been seen as tit-for-tat revenge missions this year Israeli diplomats have been targeted in Tbilisi, Georgia, New Delhi and Bangkok by small teams of would-be assassins.
Two scientists in Tehran were targeted with a similar weapon and its use in New Delhi is seen as a way for Unit 400 to signal that it was taking revenge.
These operations, a 53-page dossier passed to Sky says, were all allegedly conducted by Unit 400 alongside locally recruited “facilitators”.
There is some scepticism among intelligence agencies as to the extent to which Iran would be involved in ‘terror’ attacks which went beyond very focused operations such as those which have been blamed on Tehran this year.
But the dossier insists: “The overall picture is one of an organisation which reaches out across the globe to commit carefully planned terror attacks of its own accord, as well as to arm proxy groups that will do so on its behest.”
Turkey cut military and economic ties to Israel last year in protest over the killing of several peace activists by Israeli commandos on a Turkish ship attempting to break the blockade of the Gaza strip.
But earlier this month Turkish television claimed that Israel’s foreign spy agency, the Mossad, had written to the Turkish government warning of an impending attack sponsored by Iran.
In London Turkish embassy officials said they would be checking the latest intelligence reports in Ankara but could not comment further on the allegations.