Tehran’s Unlikely Assassins
5:05 PM, Aug 20, 2012 • By MATTHEW LEVITT
Such was the case with Mansour Ahani, described by Singaporean authorities as “an Iranian terrorist,” who first arrived in Singapore on a seaman’s passport in 1989 with the express purpose, according to Singapore’s Internal Security Department (ISD), of establishing a new identity as cover for his mission to assassinate a known Iranian dissident in Italy. At the time, Iranians did not require a visa to travel to Singapore, making it an ideal place to stop and establish a cover story en route to Ahani’s intended mission in Europe. In March 1991, after some time in Singapore, Mansour married a local woman six years his senior and applied for a “long-term social visit pass” on the basis of this relationship. This application was rejected, for reasons unknown, so after only five months of marriage Mansour left Singapore and abandoned his bride. Having failed to secure Singaporean travel documents and cover for future travel to Europe, he restarted his efforts. A few months later, he appeared in Canada, where the ISD reported that he “targeted” another Singaporean woman, a student in Toronto, and married her.
Soon after Ahani’s arrival in Canada, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service suspected that he was a highly trained assassin sent by the Iranian government to plan an attack on author Salman Rushdie. After fathering a son with his new wife, he left Canada for Switzerland on a forged passport in 1992. Ahani met his handler in a wooded area of Zurich before the pair traveled to Italy on separate trains. Ahani’s mission was ultimately thwarted by Italian police. Before police could apprehend him, though, he fled to Turkey on yet another forged passport. In Istanbul, he made his way to the Iranian consulate, where he provided reconnaissance photographs of specific buildings requested by his MOIS handler, Akbar Khoshkooshk. Lying low, he stayed in Turkey a month before returning to Canada to the cover life he had built for himself there.
In June 1994, Canadian authorities arrested Ahani and deemed him an “inadmissible person” under Canadian immigration laws. He was deported to Iran in June 2002 after Canadian courts determined he was a member of MOIS and after a lengthy appeals process. His wife and son returned home to Singapore.
Last month, when the State Department published its annual terrorist report for 2011, Daniel Benjamin, the department’s counterterrorism coordinator, noted that Washington is “increasingly concerned about Iran’s support for terrorism and Hezbollah’s activities as they’ve both stepped up their level of terrorist plotting over the past year.” Pointing in particular to the plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador as he ate lunch at a popular Washington restaurant, Benjamin concluded that Iran and Hezbollah “are engaging in their most active and aggressive campaigns since the 1990s.”
That campaign includes not only highly trained Quds Force or Hezbollah operatives, but—in a return to history—a motley crew of unlikely assassins as well.
Matthew Levitt directs the Stein program on counterterrorism and intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and is the author of the forthcoming book, Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God (Georgetown University Press, 2013).