UK and US Step Up Action to Tackle Domestic Threat from Iran

A new sanctions package, coordinated with the US, targets Iranian officials responsible for threats to kill on UK soil and criminal gangs who do the regime’s bidding overseas.
January 29, 2024

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The UK and US have announced new sanctions to tackle the domestic threat posed by the Iranian regime, which seeks to export repression, harassment and coercion against journalists and human rights defenders.

The UK will today sanction seven individuals and one organisation, including senior Iranian officials and members of organised criminal gangs who collaborate with the regime, in order to expose and disrupt Iran’s activities in the UK and overseas.

The Iranian officials designated today are members of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Unit 840, which was exposed in an ITV investigation into plots to assassinate two television presenters from news channel Iran International on UK soil. This plot was just the latest credible reporting of the regime’s attempt to intimidate or kill British nationals or UK-linked individuals, with at least 15 such threats taking place since January 2022.

The Iranian regime delivers its threats via criminal gangs across the world. As a result, the UK and US have targeted the criminal gang leaders working with Iran, for example Naji Ibrahim Sharifi-Zindashti, the head of an international criminal and trafficking cartel, who was linked to the 2019 murder of an Iranian dissident in Istanbul.

Foreign Secretary David Cameron said:

The Iranian regime and the criminal gangs who operate on its behalf pose an unacceptable threat to the UK’s security.

Today’s package exposes the roles of the Iranian officials and gangs involved in activity aimed to undermine, silence and disrupt the democratic freedoms we value in the UK.

The UK and US have sent a clear message – we will not tolerate this threat.

The Foreign Secretary summoned the Iranian Charge d’Affaires on 22 December, to make clear that threats from the Iranian Regime will not be tolerated.

To date, the UK has more than 400 sanctions designations in place on Iranian individuals and entities in response to the regime’s human rights violations, nuclear weapons programme and malign influence internationally.

Today’s designations sit under the UK’s new Iran sanctions regime, which came into effect in December 2023 and gives the UK extensive new powers to hold Iran and those who undertake its hostile activity to account.

Home Secretary James Cleverly said:

The Iranian regime has tried to undermine our democracy through repression – we will continue to take action when necessary to protect our country, values and freedom of speech.

We cannot allow foreign regimes to collaborate with criminals to threaten us. Sanctioning these criminal networks working for the Iranian regime will remind them that we will fight back.

My priority is to protect our people and to defend our way of life, and the UK will not tolerate threats from the Iranian regime.

Further Information

  • The individuals that are subject to UK travel bans and asset freezes include:
    • Naji Ibrahim Sharifi-Zindashti: Head of international drug and trafficking cartel
    • Mohammed Ansari: IRGC-QF official named in ITV News report for coordinating threat to Iran International
    • Muhammed Abd al-Razek Kanafani: Named in ITV News report for co-ordinating threat to Iran International
    • Abdulvahap Kocak: Turkish national linked to the killing of an Iranian dissident in Istanbul
    • Ali Kocak: Turkish national linked to the killing of an Iranian dissident in Istanbul
    • Ali Esfanjani: Iranian national linked to the killing of an Iranian dissident in Istanbul
    • Muhammad Reza Naserzadeh: Iranian national linked to the killing of an Iranian dissident in Istanbul
  • The following organisation is also being sanctioned by the UK and is subject to asset freezes:
    • Unit 840: Group within Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps named in ITV News report for co-ordinating threat to Iran International
  • Since the start of 2022, the UK has responded to at least 15 credible threats and plots to kill British or UK-based individuals by the Iranian regime. The regime has publicly called for the killing of these individuals and in some cases detained and harassed the individual’s families in Iran.
  • The UK Government works with a range of partners and will continue to use all tools at our disposal to protect individuals in the UK against any threats from the Iranian state.
  • The Government continually assesses potential threats in the UK, and takes the protection of individuals’ rights, freedoms, and safety very seriously – wherever those threats may originate.
  • Today’s sanctions package is being announced under the new regime which came into force in December 2023.
  • The regime contains measures designed to target individuals and organisations, including designation powers designed to deter the Government of Iran or armed groups that they back, from conducting hostile activity against the United Kingdom or any other country.
  • Asset freeze: An asset freeze prevents any UK citizen, or any business in the UK, from dealing with any funds or economic resources which are owned, held or controlled by the designated person. It also prevents funds or economic resources being provided to or for the benefit of the designated person. UK financial sanctions apply to all persons within the territory and territorial sea of the UK and to all UK persons, wherever they are in the world.
  • Travel ban: A travel ban means that the designated person must be refused leave to enter or to remain in the United Kingdom, providing the individual is an excluded person under section 8B of the Immigration Act 1971.