Is the Iranian Regime Training Terrorists in Albania?

The recent arrest in the Netherlands of two international terrorists targeting an Iranian dissident underscores the regime’s growing aggression. Is the regime now training terrorists in Albania?

The regime’s growing aggression follows years of appeasement by Europe and America, allowing the regime to operate with impunity. Their activities include assassination attempts on foreign soil, hostage-taking of foreign nationals within Iran and generating regional wars.

One of the arrested individuals is Mehrez Ayari, a Tunisian national raised in France. The other, a recent convert to Shi’ism, holds Colombian citizenship. French newspaper Le Monde identifies Ayari, wanted by French authorities since August 2022 for a murder in France, as the prime suspect in the attack on Dr. Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a prominent Spanish politician and supporter of the Iranian opposition group Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK). Miraculously surviving a shot to the face in Madrid on November 9, 2023, Dr. Vidal-Quadras immediately tweeted accusations of an Iranian regime assassination attempt.

Albania Accepted Ashraf Residents

The Iranian regime’s Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS), collaborating with the Quds Force, have expanded their reach beyond other parts in Europe to establish official organizations in Albania. In recent years, Albania granted refuge to members of the MEK, who had previously faced brutal attacks from the Quds Force in Iraq. These individuals now lead peaceful lives in Ashraf, a self-funded community built near the capital, Tirana in Durres province.

A front organization called “Nejat Society” serves as a tool for the MOIS to conduct espionage and destructive activities against the opposition and disrupt the peace of both MEK members and Albanian citizens. According to Iran experts, the “Nejat Society” was established over two decades ago by the MOIS in Iran to pressure and torture families of MEK members in Iran, forcing them to collaborate and make false accusations against their loved ones.

albania flag
Albanian flag

In recent years, the MOIS appointed Ebrahim Khodabandeh as the CEO of this “Nejat Society” in Iran. In 2021, utilizing a hefty budget allocated by the MOIS, Khodabandeh formed the “Asila” (Association for the Support of Iranians Living in Albania) from Tehran with the aim of demonizing the MEK. Following an order by the Special Prosecutor for Combating Corruption and Organized Crime (SPAK) to inspect Asila locations and confiscate their communication devices on July 15, 2022, Iranian national Hassan Heyrani, the operator of Asila, was arrested and subsequently deported as persona non grata.

Despite the dismantling of Asila, the Iranian regime’s destructive activities continued. In July 2023, the MOIS embarked on more brazen operations by launching the “Nejat Society of Albania” staffed by the same individuals previously associated with Asila. Currently, the country appears to be turning a blind eye to these activities conducted under the guise of the “Nejat Society of Albania.”

Research Report

A Pentagon-sponsored research report by the Library of the US Congress identifies Ebrahim Khodabandeh as an element used by the MOIS against the MEK. Residents of Ashraf described Khodabandeh as a dangerous individual who participated in the interrogation and torture of their family members by prison guards in Iran.

By employing several Iranian and Albanian individuals, he holds public meetings in the country to incite hatred against the MEK members, an activity impossible in other European countries. These meetings involve broadcasting speeches intended to sow discord between the Albanian people and the MEK in Ashraf. Additionally, other media outlets affiliated with the MOIS advocate for attacks on Ashraf.

In a message published on the website of the “Nejat Society of Albania” following a recent meeting to spread hatred against the MEK, Khodabandeh quotes other Iranian intelligence agents who falsely refer to them as the “MEK family.” The message states, “They are proud of your existence and you are their hope after God. May God give you strength. Bravo for what you did. You shined a light of hope in the hearts of the families…”

A noteworthy aspect of Khodabandeh’s message is the mention of two Albanian individuals: Erisa Idrizi (from an Albanian minority community) as president and Aldo Solullari as press manager of the “Nejat Society of Albania.” He expresses pride in their success in securing a few minutes of televised coverage of the meeting, referring to them as “two passionate and motivated young people, whose existence I am proud of as assets of the Nejat Society of Albania.”

The key question remains: Is the Iranian regime breeding terrorists like Mehrez Ayari or the Colombian convert within Albania? Evidence suggests that Ayari was a low class common criminal seeking money before becoming entangled in the Iranian regime’s complex terrorist operations targeting the opposition.

The past experience is telling. In 2018, the Albanian police chief and anti-terror director accused a “Nejat Society” accomplice, Alireza Naghashzadeh, working as an informer for a Quds Force terror group planning to bomb a MEK New Year’s event participated by the Albanian and foreign official guests.

ayatollah seyed ali khamenei. GNU Free Documentation License.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. GNU Free Documentation License
Pejman Talebi
Pejman Talebi is an Iran & Middle East political and Economic researcher.