Ira­nian em­bassy re­cruit­ing ex­pats

U.S. ter­ror ex­perts warn of at­tack risk as outreach pro­gram in Canada mo­bi­lizes im­mi­grants for ‘ser­vice’ to Tehran

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - STEVEN ED­WARDS

UNITED NATIONS • Ab­sent diplo­matic re­la­tions with the United States, Iran is us­ing its em­bassy in Canada to re­cruit eth­nic Ira­ni­ans to “be of ser­vice” to Tehran — caus­ing U.S. ter­ror­ism ex­perts to warn of a pos­si­ble at­tack from north of the bor­der.

The mo­bi­liza­tion ef­fort is tak­ing place un­der the guise of the em­bassy’s cul­tural outreach pro­gram, and Ira­nian-Cana­di­ans op­posed to the regime in Tehran say the Is­lamic repub­lic’s in­ten­tions are re­vealed in an in­ter­view that Hamid Mo­ham­madi, Iran’s cul­tural af­fairs coun­sel­lor at­tached to the Ira­nian em­bassy in Ot­tawa, gave in Farsi to an Iran-based web­site di­rected at Ira­nian ex­pa­tri­ates in Canada.

Es­ti­mat­ing the Ira­nian pop­u­la­tion in Canada to be 500,000, Mo­ham­madi de­scribes them as hav­ing “char­ac­ter­is­tics” that “set them apart” from other im­mi­grants. He says re­cent Ira­nian im­mi­grants have “de­ci­sively pre­served strong at­tach­ments and bonds to their home­land,” while the “younger sec­ond gen­er­a­tion” is al­ready “work­ing in in­flu­en­tial gov­ern­ment po­si­tions.”

Mo­ham­madi urges all Ira­nian-Cana­di­ans to as­pire to “oc­cupy high-level key po­si­tions” and “re­sist be­ing melted into the dom­i­nant Cana­dian cul­ture.”

Most omi­nously, he maps out how his coun­try in­tends to lure cur­rent and fu­ture Ira­ni­ans in Canada into help­ing Iran: “By 2031, the to­tal im­mi­grant pop­u­la­tion of Canada will in­crease by 64%, and the num­ber of Ira­ni­ans will in­crease due to birthrate,” Mo­ham­madi re­counts for the web­site Ira­ni­ans Re­sid­ing Abroad (found at iranyad.ir).

“So, there­fore, we need to put into ef­fect very con­cen­trated cul­tural pro­grams in or­der to en­hance and nur­ture the cul­ture in this fast­grow­ing pop­u­la­tion. It is ob­vi­ous that this large Ira­nian pop­u­la­tion can only be of ser­vice to our beloved Iran through these pro­grams and gath­er­ings.”

Canada is of­fi­cially tough with Iran. Each year it leads a UN cen­sure of the Is­lamic repub­lic’s ap­palling hu­man rights record. It also con­ducts gov­ern­ment-to-gov­ern­ment re­la­tions ac­cord­ing to a “Con­trolled En­gage­ment Pol­icy” (CEP), which lim­its contact to just four top­ics, one be­ing the 2003 murder in an Ira­nian jail of Ira­ni­anCana­dian pho­to­jour­nal­ist Zahra Kazemi.

But while CEP for­bids Iran from open­ing con­sulates or cul­tural cen­ters be­yond Ot­tawa, Ira­nian em­bassy of­fi­cials ap­pear to be find­ing ways around the di­rec­tive.

Ira­nian im­mi­grants ac­tive against the Tehran regime say an “ed­u­ca­tion ad­vi­sory” sec­tion of Iran’s Ot­tawa em­bassy is the main spon­sor of a three-day Ira­nian Students Con­ven­tion planned for this sum­mer in Corn­wall, Ont.

In 2010, a re­port by the news­magazine Maclean’s ex­posed an Ira­nian cul­tural cen­tre in Toronto as hav­ing been founded by a well­con­nected Ira­nian diplo­mat and funded by Iran’s Ot­tawa em­bassy.

“For­eign em­bassies are al­lowed to un­der­take do­mes­tic outreach ac­tiv­i­ties in Canada, how­ever, we ex­pect them to do so in ac­cor­dance with Cana­dian laws,” said Rick Roth, a spokesman for For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter John Baird, in a state­ment that some anti-Tehran ac­tivists say falls short of show­ing a strong com­mit­ment to cur­tail­ing Iran’s ac­tiv­i­ties in Canada.

“Mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism is killing Canada. I am sick and tired of po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness in this coun­try,” said Shab­nam As­sadol­lahi, an Ot­tawa-based Ira­nian-Cana­dian, who helped trans­late the Mo­ham­madi in­ter­view as part of her ac­tivism against the regime in Tehran.

“When you be­come a Cana­dian ci­ti­zen, vir­tu­ally no one can touch you, and so these peo­ple can eas­ily get to the United States. The only so­lu­tion is to close the Ira­nian em­bassy in Ot­tawa.”

David Har­ris, di­rec­tor of the In­ter­na­tional and Ter­ror­ist In­tel­li­gence Pro­gram at In­sig­nis Strate­gic Re­search in Ot­tawa, tes­ti­fied more than a year ago be­fore a Se­nate com­mit­tee that Iran al­ready had an “ag­gres­sive pres­ence” in the Cana­dian cap­i­tal by “var­i­ously re­ly­ing on, and vic­tim­iz­ing, its ex­pa­tri­ates.”

‘Def­i­nitely there is re­cruit­ment — they want Ira­ni­ans with Cana­dian pass­ports, Ira­ni­ans with U.S. pass­ports.’

STEVEN EMER­SON Ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, In­ves­tiga­tive Project on Ter­ror­ism

But now ter­ror ex­perts from south of the bor­der are rais­ing the alarm.

“Def­i­nitely there is re­cruit­ment — they want Ira­ni­ans with Cana­dian pass­ports, Ira­ni­ans with U.S. pass­ports,” said Steven Emer­son, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the au­thor­i­ta­tive Wash­ing­ton-based In­ves­tiga­tive Project on Ter­ror­ism, and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of the up­com­ing doc­u­men­tary Ji­had in Amer­ica 2: The Grand De­cep­tion.

“Canada is not of the high­est rank among the en­e­mies of Iran, and so it is more likely this (cul­tural pro­gram ex­ists) for pos­si­ble re­cruit­ment for use in the United States — any­thing from in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing, to be­ing an in­ter­me­di­ary in the re­cruit­ment of oth­ers, or to ac­tu­ally car­ry­ing out an at­tack.”

The Ira­nian re­cruit­ment ef­fort comes as ten­sion be­tween the United States and Iran is ris­ing. In­creased Western-led sanc­tions aimed at per­suad­ing the Tehran regime to aban­don its nu­clear pro­gram are hurt­ing Iran eco­nom­i­cally, lead­ing ex­perts to fear the Is­lamic repub­lic — which Wash­ing­ton lists as a state spon­sor of ter­ror­ism — will find a way of strik­ing back.

As re­cently as last year, U.S. au­thor­i­ties ac­cused Iran of be­ing in­volved in a failed plot to as­sas­si­nate Saudi am­bas­sador Adel A. Al-Jubeir in Wash­ing­ton. In the past, the U.S. has ex­pelled Ira­nian guards with Iran’s mis­sion to the UN for al­leged spy­ing, and in­ter­cepted nu­mer­ous ter­ror-re­lated fundrais­ing schemes favour­ing Iran’s Le­banon-based ter­ror proxy, Hezbol­lah.

Iran’s fo­cus on Cana­dian-born Ira­ni­ans is quite log­i­cal, ac­cord­ing to Ho­may­oun Mobasseri, di­rec­tor of the U.S.-based hu­man rights ac­tivist group Neda for a Free Iran.

While Ira­nian-born Cana­di­ans would face fin­ger­print­ing at the bor­der even if they trav­elled with Cana­dian pass­ports, Cana­di­an­born chil­dren of Ira­ni­ans could ex­pect to pass with­out any more dif­fi­culty than any other Cana­dian.

The U.S. Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity re­ferred in­quiries on Iran’s ac­tiv­i­ties in Canada to the State Depart­ment, which in turn re­ferred ques­tions to the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment.

Iran’s Ot­tawa em­bassy did not re­turn a call seek­ing com­ment, while Iran’s mis­sion to the UN said only its em­bassy in Ot­tawa could speak to the mat­ter.

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