Armed police officers hold guns as they stand on Downing Street, in central London, Aug. 29, 2014.
Armed police officers hold guns as they stand on Downing Street, in central London, Aug. 29, 2014.

WASHINGTON - People allegedly linked to the Iranian government were caught stockpiling explosive materials in a London neighborhood, a prominent British newspaper reported this week.

London police in 2015 raided four properties linked with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and discovered thousands of disposable ice packs filled ammonium nitrate, a chemical used in bombs, according to the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

While the British government hasn’t reacted to the report, analysts believe the discovery in London four years ago is further evidence of Iran’s global reach through the use of proxy groups.

The 2015 alleged plot “seems wholly in keeping with the ideology and practice of the Islamic Republic [of Iran] since its inception,” Kyle Orton, a London-based Middle East analyst said.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a powerful military branch that has deployed troops throughout the Middle East, has been accused of fomenting attacks in Western countries.

“Over the last year, IRGC or the [Iranian] Intelligence Ministry have attempted or executed a half-dozen terror plots and assassinations in Europe,” Orton told VOA.

In recent years, Iran has been responsible for conducting assassinations against Iranian dissidents in several European countries, European officials say. Earlier this year, the European Union imposed a set of sanctions against Iran for its involvement in those actions.

Since withdrawing from the nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear program in 2018, the U.S. also has increasingly targeted the Iranian government and its proxy forces with economic sanctions.

Hezbollah activities

In April 2019, the U.S. government designated the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization, saying the group “participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft.”

Hezbollah, designated as a terrorist group by the U.S. and serving as one of Iran’s main proxy group, has long been involved in plots and attacks in several Western countries

The Iranian-backed group also has been carrying out criminal activities, including drug and human trafficking, in several South American countries.

Joshua Landis, the director of the Center of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Oklahoma, says the presence of Hezbollah’s operatives in Britain pose a threat to London and other major cities in the country.

“The fact that Hezbollah was stockpiling explosive material in London indicates that it remains a deadly military organization that is capable of doing harm in London,” he told VOA.

In February the British government banned Hezbollah as a terrorist organization in its entirety, after earlier having only considered the “military wing” of the Shi’ite group as a terrorist entity.

Reliance on proxies

Experts charge that the Iranian government doesn’t “shy away” from tacitly acknowledging its reliance on proxy forces around the world.

“IRGC officials have often said that these forces can wage attacks against U.S. interests or any other country,” Rasool Nafisi, an Iranian affairs analyst in Washington, told VOA.

“All of these sub-state actors, including Hezbollah, are the creation of IRGC. And this is where the danger lies; when you have all these forces operating in different parts of the world, they would occasionally do things only to show their loyalty to the IRGC,” Nafisi said.

But a spokesman for the Iranian embassy in London told the Telegraph that “Iran has categorically rejected time and again any type of terrorism and extremism, has been victim of terrorism against its innocent people, and is in the forefront fighting this inhuman phenomenon.”

“Any attempt to link Iran to terrorism, by claims from unknown sources, is totally rejected,” the Iranian official added.

Debate over Iran

There is an ongoing debate in Britain about the success of the Iran nuclear deal and whether the British government should toughen its position on Iran.

The recent discovery of explosives linked to Iran will add to that debate, some experts charge.

“The exposure of this episode now seems to be related to the heated debate in London over the wisdom of (U.S. President Donald) Trump’s maximum pressure policy toward Iran,” analyst Landis said.