Hells Angels, synagogue shootings and Iran’s shady hand in Germany


ESSEN, Germany – The two bullets, believed to have been fired by a hooded figure who was briefly seen on the security cameras in the dead of night, gouged the reinforced glass of the door at the Old Synagogue in the northwestern German city. The third bullet hit the metal door frame.

“It’s a new elevation,” Uri Kaufmann, director of the Jewish cultural center now housed in the building, said earlier this year in reference to the damage from the November attack. “But shoot the building – this is absolutely terrible.”

Ramin Yektaparast was the alleged mastermind, according to five German security officers and two Western intelligence officers: the muscled Hells Angels leader wanted for a gruesome biker gang murder in Germany. Hawk The attacks are suspected to have been directed from Tehran, through its criminal networks in Germany, allegedly on the orders of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the officials say.

Those attacks are part which the German security services see as an escalation in the activities of the Iranian regime aimed at Jewish targets as well as the Iranian diaspora in Germany. That would coincide with a reported increase in assassination and kidnapping threats from Iran in Europe and the United States. Analysts say that, in the face of protests at home, Iran is increasingly going after what it sees as foreign threats to the regime. and criminal gangs are being used to add a cloak of denial.

“They are increasing the pressure and trying to make certain groups feel insecure. It is not acceptable at all,” it was said Roderich Kiesewetter, a German parliamentarian who called for tougher action in response to Tehran’s severe crackdown on domestic protests but only succeeded in preventing himself from entering Iran.

Germany and Iran have been expelling diplomats since a court in Tehran last month sentenced a German of Iranian origin to death. Iranian judges accused Jamshid Sharmahd, who also lived in the US, of leading a US-based group seeking to restore the monarchy in Iran and planning “23 terror attacks”, which “successfully five of them”. Despite what human rights groups say was a coerced confession, the 67-year-old insisted he was only a spokesman for the group and had no role in the attacks.

Some in Germany are calling for the government to act more forcefully by blacklisting Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, expanding sanctions and closing a controversial mosque that German intelligence says is a hotbed of espionage activity.

However, Germany and some European Union officials have shown reluctance to take steps that could close the window for diplomacy amid growing concerns about Iran’s domestic nuclear program.

Germany’s foreign minister has said there is no legal basis for listing the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, “but there is no will to find one,” Kiesewetter said.

Some politicians and analysts suggest that such grounds can be established — by looking less at Iran’s domestic crackdown and more at its activity abroad, in cases such as the attack on the Essen synagogue.

Although policymakers have largely tried to keep the issue of opposition to Revolutionary Guard Corps activity in Europe separate from the blacklisting debate, “it is likely to become more difficult the to argue that as these activities continue,” said Cornelius Adebahr, an Iranian based in Berlin. expert at Carnegie Europe.

Gunman’s live-streamed attack outside a German synagogue left two dead

Security officials expressed their confidence that the plot of the synagogue was carried out according to the instructions of the Revolutionary Guard. One German security official, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the case, called it an act of “state terrorism.”

While it seems unlikely that the European biker scene is a source of agents for Iran’s activities, it is a cornerstone of Iran’s use of criminal gangs to deny credibility. [Iran’s] operational workbook,” said Matthew Levitt, a former US counterterrorism official who is now a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

It did not take long after the shooting of the synagogue for German police to enter Yektaparast.

That same night, a molotov cocktail was thrown at a school near a synagogue in the nearby city of Bochum. The suspect in that attack, a 35-year-old German-Iranian named by police as Babak J., was arrested following a tip from a man he allegedly tried to hire for an arson attack on a third synagogue in Dortmund . It was a grandfather. J.’s phone led investigators back to Iran and Yektaparast.

“His mobile phone was assessed and with that, we came across more people,” said the second security official. “In other words, a network structure, and an individual in Iran.”

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Yektaparast was already wanted by the German authorities. He was the former president of the Hells Angels chapter in Oberhausen in the heart of Germany’s industrial Ruhr Valley, and was one of the main suspects in what is known as the “Rocker-Torso Murder” – with “rocker” referring to biker subculture.

Prosecutors accuse another member of the club of shooting him in January 2014. The body was dismembered, packed in barrels that were then filled with concrete and dumped in the Rhine River and a canal. But a month later, an arm was found, followed by the torso. Later, police divers found a skull. Investigators believe the kill earned Yektaparast the Hells Angels “Filthy Little Patch” he was seen wearing – signifying he killed for the club.

By the time the case went to trial in 2021, however, Yektaparast had fled to Iran – and was posting Instagram stories of himself with luxury cars. “Since there is no extradition treaty between Iran and Germany, there is no way to get me out legally,” he said in one now-deleted video.

Yektaparast did not respond to multiple requests for comment sent through Instagram.

The nature of the attacks on the synagogue confused some of the security community. Although the Old Synagogue in Essen is an active Jewish cultural center, it has not been used as a place of worship since it was burned down in the Nazi-inspired pogroms of 1938. “I’m stumped,” said the security official. “The buildings were empty. What was that to do? That’s why we were very reluctant at the beginning to consider that there was much more behind it.”

Of 124 foreign plots identified by Iran since 1979, 12 have been in Germany, with five of those occurring in the past two years, amid a global rise in such events, said Levitt, who tracks assassination, surveillance and kidnapping plots. .

With high-level assassination plots aside, Iran may turn to “softer targets,” he said.

“That’s when the plots aimed at Jews come into play,” he said.

Germany’s Interior Ministry said in a written response to a parliamentary question last month that intelligence agents from the Quds Force – an elite wing of the Revolutionary Guard – have focused their “extensive espionage activities” particularly on pro-Israeli and Jewish targets.

The Essen investigation also revealed a threat to Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

Since the start of the current wave of anti-regime protests in Iran, ignited by the death of 22-year-old Iranian Kurd Mahsa Amini in police custody in September, “there have been increased reports of possible spying on events and on individuals from the field of opposition. ,” reported the Ministry of the Interior.

“We know that the Iranian secret service is very active in the diaspora community,” said Neda Soltani, a Berlin-based activist who said German authorities have warned three of her friends about a specific threat to their safety. “They have very long arms across Europe,” she said.

Iranian activists camping out for 80 days in front of the Green Party headquarters in Berlin say they were attacked by a man armed with a knife and a broken bottle. It is not yet clear who committed the offence. While some say Islamic extremists may have been behind the attack, activists say they are being watched more closely.

“These attacks did not happen out of the blue. We recognized that there were people who took pictures and were wandering around there,” said Setayesh Zadeh, one of the organizers of the Berlin protest, who demanded the expulsion of the Iranian ambassador. “People are afraid to go to exhibitions. That should not be the case in a democracy.”

Germany’s domestic intelligence agency warned Germans of Iranian descent about the risks of returning to Iran if they took part in demonstrations against the Iranian government.

The intimidation has fueled calls for Germany to close the Islamic Center of Hamburg, which Green Party leader Omid Nouripour has called a “central den of espionage” for Iran.

The German Ministry of the Interior is assessing whether the religious center should be closed. The center denies allegations by German intelligence agencies that it is a hub for the Iranian regime’s operations.

Kate Brady and Vanessa Guinan-Bank in Berlin contributed to this report.

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