The Iranian Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) is a prominent military branch within the Iranian Armed Forces. It was founded to act as the main defender of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and now serves as one of the leading international sponsors of terrorism, propping up various Iranian proxies around the world. 

The IRGC has brazenly attempted to abduct and kill British citizens both domestically and abroad. It has also attacked Iranian nationals on British soil. Given the heightened relevance of these occurrences, it is quite baffling that the IRGC has yet to be officially recognised as a terrorist organisation by the United Kingdom. While groups like Hamas and Hezbollah are already classified as terrorist organisations, the main sponsor of global terrorism, often dubbed as the “head of the snake”, is still not proscribed.

This is despite recent calls for Rishi Sunak’s government to do so. Both former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and Labour’s shadow defence secretary John Healey recently lambasted the government for failing to act. Last year, Duncan Smith was one of 90 Tory MPs who signed a letter supporting the IRGC’s proscription. 

Proscribing an organisation as a terrorist group prohibits its supporters from using their resources within the UK, whether in public activism or in private financial transactions. This means that any apparent demonstrations of loyalty, such as publicly displaying symbols associated with the group, could lead to legal consequences. Despite affirmations from Sunak regarding the imperative for designation, no additional steps have been taken.

The Prime Minister has stated that his primary concern is that designation might precipitate retaliatory measures from the regime, potentially severing vital diplomatic ties between them. This is naive; the realm of diplomacy has already been compromised as British citizens and institutions have become victims of the nefarious schemes of the Islamic Republic via the IRGC. Considering the IRGC’s ability to penetrate the UK’s security apparatus to target its institutions and citizens, the act of proscription would signal the United Kingdom’s staunch condemnation of state-sponsored terrorism while reasserting its unwavering commitment to upholding alliances grounded in justice, liberty, and freedom.

The IRGC already has an insidious ability to operate within the UK. Alicia Kearns MP, chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, has suggested that the Islamic Centre of England (ICE) operates as “the IRGC’s London office”. The ICE acquired £104,476 in 2020 and £129,556 in 2021 through funds masked as furlough payments. Furthermore, the ICE has been seen to be an affiliate of the US-sanctioned al-Mostafa University in Qom, Iran, implicated in IRGC recruitment. These violations are taking place practically unquestioned within the UK. The ease with which these institutions operate within British borders proves not only the urgency of decisive action on this issue but also the potential emergence of similar-minded organisations. 

What is less clear is the IRGC’s influence on young British Muslims. The Charity Commission is currently investigating three videos that were disseminated to students by the Islamic Students Associations of Britain (ISA) that appear to show Iranian generals giving antisemitic talks. Two of the videos are live-streamed talks but one of the videos was an in-person event at the Kanoon Towhid Islamic centre in west London. The videos contain holocaust denial, chants of “death to Israel” and descriptions of an apocalyptic war against Jews. 

Educational institutions, then, can be used as conduits for disseminating propaganda filled with anti-Western and antisemitic rhetoric, while simultaneously suppressing any lifestyle that diverges from Iran’s form of traditional Islam. The ISA group is unlike most Muslim student groups in the UK in that it is exclusively committed to the teachings of former Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini.

Exploiting diplomatic channels, the IRGC has adeptly cultivated a network within the UK, aiming to indoctrinate impressionable teenagers into their system by offering alluring “respectability” from IRGC members. The decision to proscribe the IRGC would quicken the dismantling of its affiliated institutions, purported “charities” and seemingly legitimate “businesses” that serve as mere facades for the Islamic Republic’s agenda. 

According to the most recent data, there is overwhelming evidence indicating that the IRGC supports terrorist attacks in the UK against its institutions and citizens. In 2022 alone, it was confirmed that the Met Police and MI5 had foiled 15 plots from the Iranian government against British or UK-based targets. Most recently, back in March, a harrowing incident unfolded in south London when operatives from the regime callously stabbed Pouria Zeraati, a British national of Iranian descent. Zeraati, a journalist working for the renowned Iran International, epitomises the Iranian diaspora’s resolve to disseminate truth by countering the regime’s propagandist narratives. Due to the severity of the threats against Iran International, the news outlet briefly relocated to the United States in 2023, which had already proscribed the IRGC in 2019 and has recommended the UK to follow suit. 

The IRGC celebrated this relocation as a victory, with its commander-in-chief, Major General Hossein Salami, unabashedly boasting about the success of these threats and the Islamic Republic’s influence over Western nations.

The meticulous planning and sporadic execution of these attacks, showcased most recently with Zeraati, validate the unsettling reality of the UK’s response in thwarting future attacks. What is even more worrisome is that the perpetrators managed to avoid capture, leaving British soil via Heathrow Airport. Evidently, a concerted campaign targeting Iranians in the UK persists. 

Last year, an IRGC operative was offered a whopping $200,000 to assassinate two Iranian-British citizens affiliated with Iran International, a direct order given by Mohammad Reza Ansari, the IRGC’s overseer of international assassinations. The UK cannot afford to have a passive stance on this issue.

So believes Iranian activist, Vahid Beheshti, who embarked on a hunger strike outside of the Foreign Office, pledging to remain on strike until the government proscribed the IRGC as a terrorist organisation. His courageous act resulted in a drastic loss of more than a quarter of his body weight. He argues that Iranian dissidents and journalists face imminent danger from the Islamic Republic, while dissent or disagreement could lead to a lethal altercation with IRGC operatives. Beheshti has since been approached by counter-terrorism police who cautioned him against returning to his home in the West Midlands due to death threats. This situation underscores the chilling reality faced by British citizens who call out the Iranian regime’s murderous theocracy: nowhere is safe. 

Beheshti garnered widespread support from MPs, with 125 signatories backing his petition for proscription. More recently, in November of 2023, approximately 70 MPs from diverse political backgrounds signed a letter in agreement to proscribe the organisation. Distinguished figures in the realm of counter-terrorism, such as Director General of the MI5, Ken McCallum, have also noted that the IRGC has been a “rising source of concern” over the past 18 months in particular. What’s more, Security Minister Tom Tugendhat revealed that IRGC operatives were collecting intelligence on prominent Jewish people in Britain as potential targets in the event of a conflict with Israel. Designating the IRGC as a terrorist organisation would serve as a pivotal first step for the government in asserting its authority and safeguarding the very principles it claims to champion. Proscription not only acts as a powerful deterrent to potential recruits but also criminalises financial support and the public display of allegiance to a given group. The Iranian regime aims to silence all opposition, and by refraining from proscription, the UK inadvertently offers IRGC operatives a haven to orchestrate attacks. Immediate action is essential to prevent further attacks on British citizens.

Samantha Wampold is a Policy Fellow at The Pinsker Centre, a campus-based foreign policy think tank, which facilitates discussion on free speech and global affairs. 

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