Iran targets UK political system with fake websites

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Iran has sought to interfere with Britain’s political system through online disinformation and bogus websites, according to a report to be released on Monday.

The 100-page report, published by the Henry Jackson Society, cites examples of bogus sites used to promote Scottish independence and promote anti-Saudi, anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian themes in the UK.

He warned that Iran, once considered a “third tier” country in terms of cyber capabilities, has become increasingly sophisticated in both scope and choice of targets.

The United States alone seized more than 100 domain names used in cybercampaigns last year by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. These included such as syria-victory.com and yemenpress.org, which were related to regional Iranian foreign policy goals.

Interference in the Scottish independence debate

Iran was also found to have funded Facebook pages to promote Scottish independence, including one called ‘Free Scotland’ which had over 20,000 subscribers and was shut down after the source of its money was discovered.

The report states that computer company Graphika dated Iran’s online interference in Scotland as early as before the independence referendum in 2013.

A Facebook page even ‘stole’ the name of The Scotsman newspaper for a site called The Scotsman Cartoon, which used a wide range of visual styles to promote Scotland’s need for independence and attacked the Prime Minister of Scotland. ‘time, David Cameron, for “English oppression”.

“While there is no suggestion that Scottish nationalist politicians have encouraged or endorsed Iranian interference, it sets a worrying precedent, not least because the issue of a possible second independence referendum on Scotland is a deeply contentious issue, ”the report said.

“Iran’s online interference in British politics so far does not appear to have had a decisive impact. It is not for lack of trying.

“Iran has proven to be a country that spreads disinformation online and creates bogus websites and Internet accounts in its attempts to disrupt the political systems of those it considers its enemies.”

Promotion of anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian messages

Iran has been found to be behind leftist accounts promoting anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian themes, including one titled britishleft.com.

One of the site’s named authors, a self-styled “Elena Kowalsky” (also known as “Kowalski”), was found to be logged into a Twitter account registered with an Iranian phone number.

“The site and its authors have tended to promote material from other sites identified as likely Iranian counterfeits in a process of building mutual credibility,” the report said.

A second site, which claimed to be based in Birmingham, followed a similar pattern in promoting articles with anti-Saudi, anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian leanings, as well as repurposed material from Iranian media network Press TV. , whose license has been revoked by Ofcom.

The site, linked to an Iranian phone number, also plagiarized articles from mainstream sites that matched its agenda, for example, reporting an alleged increase in insulting comments towards Muslim women following Boris’ comments. Johnson.

Iranian institutions established in the United Kingdom

The report – written by Dr Paul Stott, associate researcher at the Henry Jackson Society – says Iran has successfully established institutions in the UK, especially religious and educational establishments.

“Ironically, he was helped in this by the tolerance of our political system and also financially, through the Gift Aid program,” he said.

This includes the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), a registered charity that operates a bookstore and event center in London, and which had been a consistent pro-Iranian political voice in London, according to the report. .

Another institution, the Islamic Center of England, received an official warning from the Charity Commission after holding rallies in support of General Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), who was assassinated. in January 2020.

The report cites the latest attempt to ban a movie, Lady of Heaven, about an Iraqi child who loses his mother during the rise of the Islamic State. The film is based on a story originally written by a Kuwaiti Shia cleric who now lives in Buckinghamshire.

The film was denounced as a “source of division” by the Iranian Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), while the Iranian ambassador in London tweeted that he had written to the Sunni and Shiite Islamic centers of the United Kingdom for the condemn.

“Iran continues to interfere with our social cohesion. Where it once sought to rally support against Salman Rushdie by shouting ‘blasphemy’, it now seeks to agitate British Muslims on issues such as the film ‘Lady of Heaven ‘which he wishes to see banned,’ the report said.

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