UK 'responded to 15 credible threats since start of 2022'

Iran-hired criminal gangs spying on UK Jews for potential murder campaign — minister

‘This is a persistent threat’ by Islamist regime, says Tom Tugendhat, after Jewish woman who met Khamenei says she was told Tehran preparing to kill top Jews if Israel strikes Iran

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Illustrative: Members of the Jewish Leadership Council meet Britain's then-prime minister David Cameron at 10 Downing Street in London, January 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant, Pool)
Illustrative: Members of the Jewish Leadership Council meet Britain's then-prime minister David Cameron at 10 Downing Street in London, January 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant, Pool)

Criminal gangs hired by Iran are spying on British Jews to prepare for potential assassination operations against prominent community members, a UK minister has said, after a local report said Tehran is “mapping” Diaspora Jews with the aim of retaliating for a potential Israeli military strike.

“We know that the Iranians are using non-traditional sources to carry out these operations, including organized criminal gangs. They are paying criminal gangs to conduct surveillance. Basically, the Iranians are using crooks based in Britain to spy for them,” Minister of State for Security Tom Tugendhat told the Jewish Chronicle on Thursday.

The news outlet earlier this month published a detailed testimony by Catherine Perez-Shakdam, a former staunch pro-Iran pundit who met the Islamic Republic’s most senior leaders before radically changing her views, rediscovering her Jewish heritage and becoming a vocal critic of the regime.

Perez-Shakdam recounted her 2017 meeting with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in detail — saying the only thing that scares him is an Israeli attack — and said that in a separate high-level meeting, she was exposed to a plan “to identify all the prominent NGOs run by Jews, who was doing what in each business sector, the important rabbis. They wanted to figure out their influence and where they lived with their families in order to target them.”

“They wanted to have a better understanding so they would know how to strike and where, so that if Israel ever dared to attack Iran, the Diaspora would have a very nasty surprise,” she told the Jewish Chronicle.

Perez-Shakdam says she gained access to the Islamic Republic’s highest echelons by obtaining the trust of Nader Talebzadeh, Iran’s “chief propagandist,” who died last year. Calling him “Iran’s Dr. Goebbels,” after the infamous Nazi propagandist, she said it was he who had organized the event in which the plan to kill prominent Jews was presented to her.

An undated photo of UK’s Security Minister Tom Tugendhat. (Wikimedia Commons; CC BY 3.0)

Last week, several days after the JC report came out, Tugendhat, the British minister, told the country’s parliament that Tehran “tried to collect intelligence on UK-based Israeli and Jewish individuals between 2020 and 2022.” He said the UK government believes that “this information was a preparation for future lethal operations.”

As of mid-February, Tugendhat said last Monday, Britain had “responded to 15 credible threats since the start of 2022 to kill or kidnap British or UK-based individuals by the Iranian regime. This is a persistent threat. This is not carried out by rogue elements, but is a conscious strategy of the Iranian regime.”

Three days later, Tugendhat explicitly told the Jewish Chronicle that its earlier report about Tehran’s mapping project had been accurate.

“You were right,” he said. “We have very clear intelligence about the activities of hostile regimes in the UK and we keep a very close eye on what their agents and those close to them are doing.”

Catherine Perez-Shakdam, a French woman of Jewish heritage, interviews future Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Mashad in May 2017 (Screenshot: Russia Today)

“You can be very clear that I wouldn’t have mentioned Jewish and Israeli targets unless I had good reason to do so,” added Tugendhat. “I take all threats against anyone in the UK very seriously and the reason I highlighted Israelis and the Jewish community is that we have been seeing threats and Iranian operational activity directed against them. I do not issue these warnings lightly.”

Perez-Shakdam last year laid out her extraordinary story in an interview with The Times of Israel. Born in Paris to Jewish parents who fled Nazi persecution, Perez-Shakdam converted to Islam and spent years as a journalist and commentator in the Middle East, eventually appearing as a talking head on Iranian state media, presenting Iran’s talking points to the world and even personally interviewing future President Ebrahim Raisi.

Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.

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