Journalist accused of spying for Iran

The 46-year-old is set for trial in Sweden accused of tracking opposition exiles

By Paul Peachey
Source: The National (UAE)
Police vehicles block a road leading to Copenhagen in October 2018, in response to an Iranian plot uncovered by Danish intelligence. EPA

An Iraqi-Swedish journalist will stand trial later this month accused of spying on separatist Iranian exiles in three European countries.

Raghdan Al-Hraishawi, 46, is accused of using his role at an Arabic newspaper as a cover to infiltrate online forums run by members of the Ahvaz community to secure the names and addresses of opposition figures, according to Swedish prosecutors.

The Ahvaz opposition group, whose leaders have previously been targeted by Iranian assassins, wants a separate state for ethnic Arabs in Iran’s south-west oil-rich province of Khuzestan. It is considered a terrorist group by Tehran.

Mr Al-Hraishawi is said to have travelled to conferences and demonstrations to film delegates in Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands and then passed the information back to Iranian intelligence services over four years.

He also travelled to Tehran for face-to-face meetings with his alleged handlers, said senior public prosecutor Hans-Jörgen Hanström in a statement.

Mr Al-Hraishawi was arrested in March. He worked as a reporter for Euro Times, a Sweden-based publication launched in 2016 and distributed within the EU, according to its website. He denies the charges against him.

Prosecutors have compiled a 1,700-page dossier against him and accuse him of illegal intelligence gathering from April 2015 to February 2019.

If found guilty at a nine-day trial that starts later this month, he could face a jail term of three to four years, said his solicitor Hanna Lindblom. “He denies having any contacts with the Iranians,” she said. “There has been no contact at all.”

Mr Hanström claims that Mr Al-Hraishawi photographed car registration plates and obtained details of online login passwords during visits to activists’ homes.

Unrest in the Iranian province of Khuzestan goes back to the 1920s when an uprising was crushed by the Shah of Iran. Scandinavia has been a proxy battlefield in the dispute between Arab nationalists and the Iranian state with some of its leaders living in exile there.

Mr Al-Hraishawi had previously been reported to have made several trips to a newspaper office in the Netherlands that has close links to the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz (ASMLA), which has launched attacks on Iranian targets since 2005.

Twenty-five people were killed in September 2018 when gunmen attacked a military parade in the city of Ahvaz. Iran’s leaders blamed the attack on “terrorists recruited, trained, armed and paid” by a foreign regime.

Shortly after the attack, Denmark’s intelligence services released details of a planned Iranian-inspired assassination plot against three Ahvaz leaders living in the country. Police shut down the capital Copenhagen to thwart the planned attack.

The Denmark plot was the latest incident that came to light after Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, suggested that Iran conducted “covert assassination operations in the heart of Europe”.

The ASMLA group split in 2015 with one half the group based in Denmark and the other half in the Netherlands.

The founder of the group, Ahmad Mola Nissi, was shot dead in the Netherlands in late 2017. The Dutch government said earlier this year that it had “strong indications” that Iran was involved in the killing.

The French authorities have also blamed Iran’s intelligence services for a plot to bomb a rally of Iranian opposition groups in Paris in June last year. German police arrested an Iranian diplomat based in Austria and he has been extradited to stand trial in Belgium.