In a statement today, the Albanian State Police and the Anti-Terrorism Directorate claim to have uncovered a “terrorist network directed by the Iranian regime” in Albania. The network allegedly consists of 4 Iranian citizens forming an “active terrorist cell of an external operations unit of the Iranian Quds Forces, which are part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard.” No arrests have been made, and it is unclear whether international arrest warrants have been issued.
In a response, former opposition MP Edi Paloka claimed that the sudden declaration was an attempt of the Rama government to deviate attention from the failure to open EU accession negotiations.
This is not the first time the Rama government has uncovered Iranian “terrorist” plots. In December 2018, the Albanian government expelled two Iranian diplomats from Albania, including the Iranian Ambassador for reasons of “damaging its national security.” The alleged reason was a planned attack on an Albania–Israel football match. The expulsion was publicly praised by US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia.
According to the police declaration of today, the uncovered terrorist cell is
responsible, among others, for the March 2018 plan to commit a terrorist act during the celebration of Novruz, frequented by high-level members of the Iranian opposition organization Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK).
In an interview, Baba Edmond Brahimaj confirmed that two persons had tried to enter the World Headquarters (Kryegjyshata) of the Bektashi Order during Novruz 2018. It is unclear whether the two persons who were arrested back then and released because of lack of evidence are among the four suspects mentioned today in the police statement.
By referring to the MEK as an “Iranian opposition organization” and an “Iranian opposition movement,” the Albanian State Police echoes the public statements of Prime Minister Edi Rama during his recent speech at the UN’s General Assembly:
Albania is especially worried by the destabilizing behavior of Iran in the Middle East, but also its activities that cause problems with regard to the Iranian opposition, the community of the Iranian opposition, which we have welcome with generosity in our country after extraordinary massacres, which they have been subjected to in other countries. We had to react to several illegal activities of Iran and security interests […].
The reference “Iranian opposition movement” is a recent change in the government’s language. When the great majority of the MEK members were transferred to Albania from a refugee camp in Iraq in 2016, Prime Minister Rama made no mention of the political context, but instead referred to the operation as “humanitarian” in a letter to Parliament:
Each member of the MEK organization who arrived in Albania has a residency permit and healthcare card. Each of the persons who arrived so far in our country has been accepted on a humanitarian basis and will be treated according to the legal framework in force. […]
So far, none of the citizens who are member of MEK has applied for Albanian citizenship. I want to inform you that the Albanian government has taken all necessary measures, in close cooperation with our foreign partners, to be apt at dealing with this important humanitarian operation.
There is no mention in the letter of the political activities that the MEK would be allowed to develop once inside their Albania compound in Manza, near Tirana. Indeed, the designation “Iranian opposition” appears to derive directly from the US government; the EU, for example, does not refer to the MEK as “Iranian opposition.” Under the Trump presidency, the MEK has become a centerpiece of US Iran policy, with countless US officials making the trip to Albania to meet MEK leader Maryam Rajavi. This includes personal Trump lawyer Rudi Giuliani (eyewitness report of his speech here), former advisor Newt Gingrich, as well as former FBI director Louis J. Freeh, late US Senator John McCain, and a delegation of US Senators Thom Tillis, Roy Blunt, and John Cornyn.
By designating the MEK as “Iranian opposition,” the US government attempts to pave the way to a possible regime change in Iran in which the MEK would play a possible role. Since Trump’s election, Maryam Rajavi has publicly called for an “uprising” in Iran.
In return, the Iranian government has accused the Albanian government of hosting “terrorists,” while there have been reports of human rights abuses in the Albanian MEK camp.