Iranian officials sanctioned by government after ITV News reveals plot to kill two UK journalists

The UK and the US have announced co-ordinated sanctions against Iranian officials after ITV News reveals plot to kill two journalists 

The UK government has announced sanctions on two Iranian officials with links to Tehran's regime after a plot to kill two journalists on British soil was uncovered by ITV News.

Among seven individuals sanctioned by the US and UK were Mohammed Ansari, an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qods Force (IRGC-QF) official, and Muhammed Abd al-Razek Kanafani, who were named in the ITV News report for threatening to kill Iran International journalists in London.

Unit 840, a group within Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that was named in the ITV News report for co-ordinating threat to Iran International, has also been sanctioned.

The UK and US unveiled sanctions against seven individuals linked to Iran, for allegations including assassinations and threats to life in countries such as the UK. Since the start of 2022, the UK has responded at least 15 credible threats and plots to kill British or UK-based individuals by the Iranian regime.

The foreign secretary warned Tehran we will not tolerate threats from Iran on UK soil.

In total, asset freezes were announced against five Iranians and two Turks, as well as against a unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds unit said to have targeted people in Britain.

To date, the UK has more than 400 sanctions designations in place on Iranian individuals and entities in response to the regime's human rights violations, nuclear weapons programme and malign influence internationally.

Last December, ITV News revealed how Iranian spies planned to stab journalists Fardad Farahzad and Sima Sabet, who work at London based news channel Iran International.

The plot was codenamed "The Wedding", with Farahzad the groom and Sabet the bride.

A people smuggler, who ITV News called Ismail, was brought in to carry out the mission, but during the months of planning he turned double agent and began relaying the plot to a Western intelligence agency, which cannot be named.

ITV News reveals an assassination plot to kill two Iranian journalists on British soil, Global Security Editor Rohit Kachroo reports

The Metropolitan Police stepped in shortly afterwards and warned Iran International of threats to some staff. The channel chose to go public.  

“Two of our British-Iranian journalists have, in recent days, been notified of an increase in the threats to them” a statement published by the channel on November 7 said. 

After viewing the evidence obtained by ITV News, Farahzad - whose nightly Iran International show was relocated to Washington DC - said from his US studio: “I didn't know there was a specific threat against me until now”

“Hearing it firsthand makes it more real. It’s shocking to see people who are casually talking about harming me."

Fardad Farahzad, whose nightly Iran International show was relocated to Washington DC, believes sanctions are not the most effective measure to deal with Iranian threat

Speaking again after the news of the government sanctions, Farahzad added that while the blacklists are welcome there is still a long way to go.

"It's not like these people are coming to New York tomorrow and going to Fifth Avenue and buying coats.

"I'm not sure how effective these sanctions are when we're talking about a sovereign state with unlimited resources, the ability to change their names and hire other third party individuals.

"As far as justice is concerned, I'm not sure it's ever achievable but doing nothing is not an answer either."

Sima Sabet was one of two journalists who were at the centre of an assassination attempt by Iranian spies

Sabet, who previously presented a talk show on the channel's 9pm slot, told ITV News: "It is not easy to deal with threat, it has affected my personal life and it has affected my public life. But I never stop working, I never want to feel like I'm silenced.

"That's a promise I have to my job."

According to Ismail, his commanders told him in October last year: “This London thing must be done in any circumstances.” Credit: ITV News

Who are the two men being sanctioned?

Muhammed Abd al-Razek Kanafani and Mohammed Reza Ansari were reportedly the men who ordered the plot.

Kanafani sent out the commands for a hit on Fardad and Sabet. He has close ties to Syrian dictator President Bashar al-Assad. 

Kanafani sent Ismail screengrabs of the two anchors’ Instagram profiles, instructing him to find a way to kill them. He followed up later with telephone calls.

Ansari was the real mastermind behind the attack. He was a commander from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to officials. 

Ansari, who also has links to the family of Mr al-Assad, had recently been sanctioned by the US State Department. 

Commenting on Monday, foreign secretary David Cameron said: "We've issued sanctions with several individuals and one organisation connected with Iran because frankly they were carrying out threats to kill people here in this country.

"Completely unacceptable and that's why we've acted. These sanctions are asset freezes and travel bans and this comes on 400 people that we've issued sanctions on in the past.

"It's completely unacceptable behaviour and we will always respond rapidly and correctly."

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