Top post for Iranian agent with IRA links

FURTHER clues emerged yesterday about a plot by Iranian agents to fund the Provisional IRA, as it emerged the mastermind on the Iranian side had made a rapid rise through the ranks of the Iranian intelligence services over the course of the operation.

Last October, Amir Hussein Taghavi - the Iranian official named as the father of the drugs-for-guns plot - was promoted. Informed sources said he was elevated from head of the Western European Section of MOIS - the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security - to head of its entire 'Anti-Terrorism Department'. A source added: 'They call it that, but it is in effect the terrorism department. Iran is very Orwellian that way.'

Mr Taghavi was promoted following a highly publicised visit by his minister, Ali Fellahyan, to Bonn. There, the MOIS minister signed an accord on intelligence co-operation with his German counterpart - prompting protests by the British government, who cited sensitivities over the fatwah against Salman Rushdie. Germany, according to informed sources, had become the site of two centres of Iran- IRA co-operation, in Dortmund and Munster. The MOIS chief agent in Germany was promoted to head of the MOIS Western European section in Tehran, succeeding Mr Taghavi, who effectively became number two to Mr Fellahyan.

All the while, the Iranian- IRA plot was being pieced together in a joint surveillance operation between the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, and the Security Services, MI5, which is responsible for counter-IRA operations.

Last December, Mr Taghavi made his first trip abroad in his new capacity. He went to Paris and successfully secured the release of two Iranian nationals held in a French prison. They were wanted in Switzerland for the murder of an Iranian opposition figure, but were extradited instead to Iran - prompting a legal appeal by Switzerland against the French government.

While in Paris, informed sources say, Mr Taghavi also held a meeting with IRA representatives.

Tehran yesterday continued to deny any kind of relationship with the Provisional IRA. The Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned the British Charge d'Affaires, Jeffrey James, who insisted Britain had clear evidence to back its claims and demanded the links be cut immediately.

'We shall maintain our vigilance and judge the Iranian government by its actions and not its words,' a British official said.

Or, as one British diplomat put it: 'We won't be fobbed off with any nonsense that these contacts did not exist or were misunderstood. We know they happened. We have become aware of them through our own intelligence - not second hand.

'And we don't think that the Iranians were taking lessons in Guinness-drinking, or trying to convert the IRA to Shia Islam.'

Informed sources said the Turkish intelligence service, MIT - traditionally the best- informed on Iranian activities - monitored a shipment of drugs via Turkey in an Iranian lorry in September 1993. The Turkish agents established that the shipment originated from MOIS and was destined for Greece, where it was delivered to members of the left- wing 17 November group. The group has since been named as a new conduit between Iran and the IRA.

Athens has since emerged as the destination of a number of drug consignments originating from Iran and intended to provide funds for the IRA.

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