By Jubin Katiraie
Tensions between the Iranian government and the US have been rising steadily ever since a US drone strike killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.
This was to be expected, of course, but something completely unexpected was Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei lashing out at Albania, calling it “a small but evil European country”.
Why? Well, Albania is hosting thousands of Iranian dissidents, members of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI/MEK), who were based in Iraq until the Iranian government’s violent attacks became too much and they were forced to leave Iraq.
The MEK was granted refuge in Albania in 2013, as part of an agreement by the US to protect the political activists from reprisals. This does mean that Albania is at additional risk, but Prime Minister Edi Rama said it “honours and keeps alive the Albanian tradition”, a reference to the country’s sheltering of the Jews during World War II.
The MEK members there live in a large, high-security camp, known as Ashraf 3, but when Iran vowed revenge for Soleimani’s death, they became increasingly concerned for their safety.
MEK legal adviser Behzad Saffari explained that because of the Iranian agents, the MEK doesn’t feel safe anywhere, highlighting that German security agencies reported on Iranian spy operations targeting the MEK.
The government of Albania’s expulsion of two of the Iranian regime’s diplomats is a courageous and admirable measure in fighting terrorism and ensuring security of the people of #Albania and Iranian refugees. #Iran
— Maryam Rajavi (@Maryam_Rajavi) January 15, 2020
He said: “The terrorism of the Iranian regime poses a threat to us everywhere in the world. The Iranian embassy in Tirana, and those in other European capitals, are centres of terrorist operations of the regime.”
Albania recognises the threat the Iranian government poses after all Iran already tried to attack the MEK at a New Years’ gathering in Ashraf 3 in 2018. Furthermore, in October 2019, Albanian police uncovered an Iran-controlled terror cell, which they believed was part of Iran’s Quds Force, that planned to carry out attacks on MEK members.
The Balkan country has even expelled three Iranian diplomat terrorists and the ambassador in just over a year.
Saffari welcomed the expulsions, saying that it was a “courageous and honourable step” in the fight against terrorism, protecting Albanian national security, and protecting Iranian dissidents in exile”. He further said that Iran’s long-term strategy is to turn the Balkans into a “gateway for Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism in Europe”.
US General Michael Barber, speaking at a security conference in Tirana earlier this month said Albania must remain vigilant, but that the US and NATO would stand by its side and respond to any attacks.