Why is Vidal-Quadras targeting Iran?

Shortly after being shot, the victim points towards the alleged perpetrator: it was Iran.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
18 November 2023 Saturday 09:22
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Why is Vidal-Quadras targeting Iran?

Shortly after being shot, the victim points towards the alleged perpetrator: it was Iran.

The relations that Alejo Vidal-Quadras has maintained for years with the opposition to the ayatollah regime are the reason why someone shot him in Madrid in the middle of the street, as he himself stated when arriving at the hospital.

The attack took place on Thursday, November 9, around 1:30 p.m., on Núñez de Balboa Street, and was soon ruled by the National Court as a suspected terrorist attack. The police are investigating who the two people involved are: the man who, wearing a helmet, approaches, opens fire on the politician, who instinctively tilts his face, and after firing the 9 mm caliber weapon, rushes away until a motorcycle waiting for you.

In the video that a passerby records shortly after, Vidal-Quadras is conscious, standing and leaning on a rubble container, covering his face.

Alejo Vidal-Quadras, 78 years old, has a very long political career that has encouraged all kinds of theories. He presided over the PP in Catalonia between 1991 and 1996, until Jordi Pujol asked Aznar for his head in the Majestic pact. Aznar sent him to the European Parliament, where he served three terms, between 1999 and 2014. Such a career, added to the moment in which he was shot, when the pact between Junts per Catalunya and PSOE to invest Pedro Sánchez had just been announced, filled the media. of confusion. The leader of Vox, Santiago Abascal, asks “that no one grant amnesty to those who shot Alejo Vidal-Quadras.” What if it was the Iranians?

Vidal-Quadras is a professor of atomic physics and Iran has a long conflict with the West over its nuclear program, but the vehement conservative politician is referring to something else. “He has never investigated and lacks sensitive information in that field,” a professor in the same field explains to this newspaper.

The victim refers to his close ties to the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). Based in Paris, it is the most organized group within the poor Iranian opposition in exile. Also the best financed: Iran has accused Israel or Saudi Arabia, although the NCRI assures that it is financed with donations from the Iranian diaspora. Its annual conferences always have a long VIP list: former American and European politicians and diplomats, essentially supporters of a tough line on Iran. Republican John Bolton, one of his top supporters in Washington, charged $40,000 to attend the 2017 conference in Paris.

Its leader is Mariam Rayavi, 69, who assumed command after the disappearance in 2003 of her husband, who is believed dead.

The NCRI is the political front of the People's Mujahideen of Iran (MEK), which Tehran considers a terrorist organization. In fact, when Vidal-Quadras began working for the MEK, more than two decades ago, both the EU and the US classified him that way.

Getting off the Western blacklists required an arduous battle in the courts and a phenomenal lobbying campaign, in which the politician played a “crucial and unforgettable” role, NCRI spokesperson Shahin Gobadi told La Vanguardia. In 2009 the EU removed them from its list; USA, in 2012.

Everything began to change with the invasion of Iraq and the fall of Saddam in 2003. The Bush administration began to consider them allies against Iran. But when he withdrew from Iraq, leaving a Shiite government in Baghdad, the situation became untenable. The US found them refuge in Albania. Between 2014 and 2016, almost 3,000 MEK combatants moved to the new Ashraf.

In 2014, Vidal-Quadras left the PP due to ideological disagreements with the leadership of Mariano Rajoy. Also, he assures someone close to him, because they had informed him that he would not repeat as a candidate in the European elections.

There were meetings with Iranian opponents before and after to coordinate everything, recalls a member of his team. “In the campaign, Iranians showed up to some rallies to control how their money was spent,” he explains. “The PP was very interested in Vox failing, so we made sure that everything was impeccable. Alejo asked me if all that was legal. 'Legal yes, but also really weird. A bunch of Moors financing a party of fachas, I told him,” he recalls with a laugh.

The Iranian connection was also behind the video that former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani recorded asking for the vote for Vidal-Quadras. Giuliani is one of the NCRI's men in the US.

Vidal-Quadras did not win the seat. Shortly after, he abandoned Vox and active politics. But he continued working for Iranian opponents, as president of In Search of Justice (ISJ), a non-profit organization that was registered in Brussels in 2014.

He has not lacked work. The MEK has had to defend itself against accusations – sometimes from organizations as unsuspicious as Human Rights Watch – of functioning as a cult; In the camps, militiamen must observe celibacy, children are separated from parents, and desertion is prohibited.

The Islamic Republic is always on the lookout. Last June, after months of tension, Albanian police raided Ashraf. In 2022, Albania suffered a massive cyberattack that experts attributed to Iran. Also in June, the CNRI saw the Paris prefecture deny it permission to hold its annual meeting, citing a security risk. The decision, Gobadi emphasizes, came after a telephone call between the French and Iranian presidents and in the middle of negotiations to obtain the freedom of hostages in Iran, a usual instrument of the Islamic Republic to obtain political concessions.

The theory of Iranian authorship is, a priori, difficult to believe. An attack against a European politician and on European soil is an unprecedented action even for the Iranian regime. An enormous risk, furthermore, to ultimately eliminate a retired politician, who no longer holds any position in a weighty institution.

Still, the NCRI has no doubt that Tehran is behind it. Vidal-Quadras is number 1 on the list of European politicians sanctioned for “support for terrorism” that Iran published in October 2022, notes Gobadi. The regime has murdered NCRI members in Europe in the past. Mariam Rayavi's own brother-in-law was assassinated in broad daylight in Geneva, in 1990, by a commando of 13 Iranian agents.

Without going that far, in 2018 Belgium uncovered a plan to attack an NCRI event in France, which Rayavi and around twenty personalities were supposed to attend. An Iranian diplomat from the Vienna embassy was sentenced to 20 years in prison. In May the diplomat left for his country, exchanged for a Belgian aid worker imprisoned in Iran.

“The regime knows that it can do whatever it wants because it is not going to pay for it,” Gobadi laments. “Furthermore, after the wave of protests in 2022, in which MEK-affiliated resistance units have played a preeminent role, the regime is much more restless,” he argues.

Vidal-Quadras has continued to travel regularly to Brussels in recent years. An hour before the attack, according to Gobadi, he participated in a video call with ISJ people about the conflict in Gaza. For the NCRI, Iran is “the head of the snake.”

A week before the attack he was in his office, “full of energy,” Slovenian MEP Milan Zver, who co-chairs Friends of a Free Iran with the popular Javier Zarzalejos, tells this newspaper. They are both number two and three on the Iranian blacklist. Zver does not hide his nervousness. “Despite the attack, Parliament has not increased the protection of the MEPs on the list. The reality is that we are responsible, to a large extent, for our own safety,” he says.

“A few months ago Alejo asked me how I felt when I was on the street, if I looked around, if I thought about where it was safe to park the car, if I looked for open spaces or turned around when I heard footsteps. I replied that he had not thought too much about it –recalls the MEP–. Today I realize that I did not gauge the gravity of the moment.”