HEADLINE: Tehran orders 'stings' to entrap Westerners PUBLICATION DATE: 17 April 1997
INTELLIGENCE officers and cultural attaches in Iranian embassies have been instructed to step up their efforts to identify suitable targets for "sting" espionage operations against foreign businessmen and delegations visiting Tehran, according to Western diplomatic sources. Intelligence services in the West are aware of the heightened risks of foreign visitors to Iran becoming involved in "entrapment" attempts after last week's jailing by a German court of four members of an Iranian-led hit squad that murdered four Kurdish dissidents in a Berlin restaurant in 1992. The aim of sting operations is to single out targets who can be incriminated for espionage activities during their stay in Iran and placed under arrest, and then used as leverage by Tehran in its dealings with the West. Tehran was suspected of an entrapment operation after the arrest of Faraj Sarkuhi, an Iranian dissident and writer, on charges of espionage. His family lives in Germany, and Iran was accused of exploiting his arrest to put pressure on Bonn to dissociate itself from the allegation that Iran had authorised the killing of the four Kurdish dissidents. The German Foreign Ministry said in February that a link between the arrest of Mr Sarkuhi and the trial in Germany could not be ruled out. After last week's verdict, Germany and other European governments, with the exception of Greece, recalled their senior envoys from Tehran. One diplomatic source said: "Now that the Tehran regime has lost this important bargaining card, it has directed its diplomats to expedite their search for new means of pressure on Western governments." Security sources in London said there was no indication that British businessmen were being specifically earmarked for entrapment by the Iranian Intelligence Ministry. However, there was no doubt, they said, that Iranian intelligence would use this method when possible. A Foreign Office official said Britons visiting Iran were being advised to take every precaution, although they were not given warnings about entrapment unless they sought such advice. In recent years there have been a number of cases where Tehran was suspected of producing "trumped-up" charges against foreigners. Roger Cooper, a British businessman, was released in 1991 after serving five years in an Iranian jail on a charge of industrial espionage. He was freed in a "goodwill gesture". London denied there had been a deal under which an Iranian student, Mehrdad Kokabi, accused of setting fire to a bookshop selling Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses , would be freed. In 1994 Helmut Schimkus, a German engineer, was arrested in Iran and sentenced to death on espionage charges. There were reportedly secret negotiations between Iran and Germany during which his release was offered in exchange for the dropping of charges against the Iranian agents accused of murdering the Kurds in Berlin.The death sentence on the German engineer was eventually annulled and he was released.