September 7, 2023 | Flash Brief

Iran’s Abduction of EU Diplomat Adds to Troubling Trend of Hostage Taking

September 7, 2023 | Flash Brief

Iran’s Abduction of EU Diplomat Adds to Troubling Trend of Hostage Taking

Latest Developments

European Union officials confirmed reports on September 5 that Iran abducted a Swedish EU employee last year. According to The New York Times, Iranian authorities detained Johan Floderus, 33, a member of the EU’s diplomatic corps, at the airport as he was leaving Tehran last year. The regime accused Floderus of espionage and has held him in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison for more than 500 days with no end in sight.

Iran has a long history of taking foreign hostages for use as bargaining chips against Western nations. In August, the United States agreed to unfreeze $6 billion in Iranian funds held in South Korean banks for the release of five Iranian American hostages. The hostage deal also came shortly after the United States allowed Iraq to pay Iran $10 billion that Baghdad owed for natural gas imports.

Expert Analysis

“By detaining a European diplomat, the regime in Tehran is clearly ramping up its hostage-taking approach. Tehran’s boldness in escalating this behavior stems from the West’s failure to provide a substantial response that would impose costs on the regime and discourage such actions. Indeed, Western governments have emboldened Tehran by acquiescing to its demands.” Saeed Ghasseminejad, FDD Senior Iran and Financial Economics Advisor

“Iran continues to seize foreign nationals for a simple reason: because it can. Tehran knows that the United States is willing to pay billions of dollars for the release of prisoners. At the same time, Iran can humiliate the United States, giving the mullahs a pretext to deride America as a weak and declining power.” — Tzvi Kahn, FDD Research Fellow and Senior Editor

Swedish Bargaining Chips

Iran is likely keeping Floderus as well as Swedish Iranian doctor Ahmadreza Djalili — held hostage since 2016 — as bargaining chips to secure the release of Hamid Nouri, a former jail guard for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, whom Swedish authorities arrested in November 2019. In July 2022, a Swedish court found him guilty and sentenced him to life in prison for his role in Tehran’s execution of thousands of Iranian political prisoners in 1988. Nouri’s return to Iran would hand the regime a propaganda victory. 

Known Hostages Still in Prison

Iran is currently holding at least 12 other known foreign or dual-national hostages besides Floderus and Djalili. These include Swiss-Iranian telecommunications executive Kamal Alavi since at least 2007, Iranian-Canadian banker Abdolrasoul Dorri-Esfahani since 2016, Australian-Iranian academic Meimanat Hosseini-Chavoshi since 2018, Canadian Iranian professor Reza Eslami since 2020, German-Iranian broadcaster and businessman Jamshid Sharmahd — who also holds a U.S. visa — since 2020, British-Iranian lawyer Shahram Shirkhani since at least 2020, British-Iranian labor activist Mehran Raoof since 2020, German-Iranian human rights activist Nahid Taghavi since 2020, French nationals Cecile Kohler and her partner, Jacques Paris, since 2022, and banker Louis Arnaud since 2022. Iran has also held an Iranian national with U.S. permanent residency, Shahab Dalili, since 2016.

French-Iranian anthropologist Fariba Adelkhah, whom Tehran arrested in 2019, was released in February. However, Iranian authorities have not returned the documents she needs to leave Iran, requiring her to go through the slow administrative process of obtaining new documents.

U.S. to Release $6 Billion to Iran in Exchange for Hostages,” FDD Flash Brief

U.S. Permits Iraq to Release Billions to Iran,” FDD Flash Brief

FAQ: Avoiding an October Sanctions Surprise That Would Empower Tehran,” by Behnam Ben Taleblu


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