January 6, 2023 | Flash Brief

UK Preparing to Designate IRGC as a Terrorist Organization

January 6, 2023 | Flash Brief

UK Preparing to Designate IRGC as a Terrorist Organization

Latest Developments

The United Kingdom is preparing to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist group, according to media reports this week. The decision, which London will likely announce within weeks, apparently stems in part from Tehran’s efforts to kidnap or kill dissidents on British soil. Ken McCallum, the director general of MI5, said in November that Tehran had plotted to kill at least 10 British residents over the past year. Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Tehran has deployed assassins as a regular tool of statecraft, regarding assassinations as a key method to ensure the regime’s survival, punish foes, and deter dissent.

Expert Analysis

“Iran’s increasing efforts to assassinate opponents overseas reflect its growing confidence that the West lacks the will to retaliate in a meaningful way. Washington and London can demonstrate otherwise by stating that they will no longer negotiate with Tehran, that they will not provide sanctions relief to Iran, and that they support the Iranian people’s calls for regime change.” — Tzvi Kahn, FDD Research Fellow

A History of Global Terror

According to the State Department, Iran committed as many as 360 targeted assassinations between 1979 and 2020. Tehran’s assassinations have occurred throughout the world, including in Britain, France, Austria, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, Kuwait, Bahrain, Pakistan, Turkey, Cyprus, Iraq, India, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Thailand, the Philippines, and Iran itself, among other countries. Yet according to a detailed Washington Post report in December, Western officials and documents reveal that the “tempo of the plots has dramatically increased in the past two years, and they are among the most ambitious and far-reaching in recent memory.”

Iran Targets Prominent Dissidents

Some of Tehran’s targets include prominent dissidents. Tehran has plotted to kidnap and assassinate Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad, a leading champion of women’s rights in Iran, on U.S. soil. In April 2022, Israel said it foiled Iranian schemes to assassinate French-Jewish journalist Bernard-Henri Lévy, a longtime critic of the Islamic Republic, in Paris; a U.S. general in Germany; and an Israeli diplomat in Turkey. In 2018, an Iranian diplomat plotted but failed to bomb an annual rally of the dissident group Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) near Paris, which some 25,000 people attended.

Targeting Former U.S. Government Officials

Iran has reportedly threatened several former U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton, and Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook, among others. The threats likely constitute an attempt to avenge IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, whom the United States killed in January 2020. The United States designated the IRGC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 2019.

An Ideological Imperative

Tehran’s willingness to deploy assassins abroad reflects its Islamist, authoritarian, and revolutionary creed, which seeks to enshrine Iran as the regional hegemon. General Ahmad Qolampour, a senior IRGC official, said in 2016, “The Islamic Revolution does not have any borders…. The Islamic Revolution[ary] Guard Corps does not have the word ‘Iran’ in its title. This means that it seeks to defend the Islamic Revolution and its achievements without regard to particular borders.”

Related Analysis

Iran Caught Again Trying to Kill Israeli Civilians Abroad,” FDD Flash Brief

Iran’s Long, Bloody History of Terror and Espionage in Europe,” by Toby Dershowitz and Benjamin Weinthal


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