Fool Germany once, shame on you. Fool Germany twice and your embassy’s going to get a stern talking to. Fool Germany three times, and it’s the embassy again.
A German court on Tuesday ordered the detention of Afghan national Abdul Hamid S. on charges of spying for Iran after he was arrested in his Bonn apartment. The 50-year-old suspect worked as a translator and cultural expert for the counterintelligence service of the German army – the Bundeswehr – and for years has fed secret information to Iran, Der Spiegel reported.
“This cannot just be shrugged off. It makes clear Iran is a country with hostile intentions that is spying against us,” Cornelius Adebahr, an analyst with the German Council on Foreign Relations, told Reuters. “Despite Europe’s interest in maintaining the 2015 nuclear accord, this is not a relationship among friends or allies.”
The case is at least the third in the past two years involving suspects either working on behalf of Iran or feeding information to the country. A Berlin court in 2017 sentenced Haider Syed M., a Pakistan national in his thirties, to four years and three months for observing people with connections to Israel on behalf of the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
He took photos and noted the movements of Rheinhold Robbe, head of the German-Israeli Association, as well as David Raouch, a French-Israeli business professor, according to reports.
At the time, Germany called in an Iranian envoy to make clear that such actions were illegal.
Then, last September, German officials arrested an Iranian diplomat who worked in Austria. He had maintained contact with spies in Belgium for years, Der Spiegel reported, and even met with two contacts to make a hit on an Iranian opposition leader in France. The pair of would-be assassins were caught before they could carry out the contract.
Only last week, the Netherlands accused Iran of orchestrating two assassinations in the country in 2015 and 2017. As a result, the EU slapped sanctions on Iran's intelligence service, freezing bank accounts.
Old-fashioned detective work
The latest caper in Germany, involving the army employee, went unnoticed by German intelligence officials. They were first tipped off by a partner agency – Der Spiegel hinted that it was the CIA, though the magazine didn’t name its source – but the agency could only provide basic information.
Once officials knew about the mole, they reportedly used tried-and-true gumshoe techniques to find the culprit. The translator only became a suspect because investigators discovered his European travels coincided with those of a top official from Iran’s spy agency – on 19 different occasions. Der Spiegel said agents then fed the translator false information and noted that he quickly met with the top official.
After the latest case, top German diplomat Philipp Ackermann was sent to the Iranian embassy to tell Iran to knock it off, according to Der Spiegel. He also warned of retaliation, which at the very least would mean that the top Iranian spy wouldn’t be able to travel so freely in Europe in the future.
We’ll see what happens when you fool Germany four times.
Andrew Bulkeley is an editor in Berlin for Handelsblatt Today. To contact the author: [email protected]