Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati ‘attacked by Eastern European mercenaries’, police suspect

Pouria Zeraati smiling and holding up the peace sign in his hospital bed
Pouria Zeraati smiling and holding up the peace sign in his hospital bed

Investigators believe the group who stabbed the Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati were Eastern European mercenaries.

Mr Zeraati was knifed in the leg by a group of three unknown assailants as he approached his car in Wimbledon on March 29.

The attackers are thought to have been paid and flown into the UK from Eastern Europe, The Guardian reports.

Counter-terrorism policing and Britain’s security services reportedly think this may be an example of the Iranian regime using organised crime networks to carry out violence against its critics without getting its hands dirty.

Indeed, in January, Britain’s head of counter-terrorism, Assistant Commissioner Matt Jukes said: “One of those trends is the overlap between hostile state actors and organised crime.

“The big connecting factor is of course money, but also the use of criminal proxies to carry out the work of hostile regimes.

“Why would you do it yourself when you can procure an organised criminal to take the action on your behalf to provide distance and deniability.”

The three men who attacked Mr Zeraati are believed to have entered the UK shortly before the stabbing.

They then fled in a blue Mazda car, which was abandoned in New Malden, before they are thought to have flown to different countries from Heathrow on commercial flights.

At the time, The Metropolitan Police said: “Because the victim is a journalist at a Persian-language media organisation based in the UK, and previous threats had been directed towards this group of journalists, the incident is being investigated by specialist officers from the Met’s counter-terrorism command.”

It comes after Mr Zeraati, who works for London-based dissident broadcaster Iran International, opened up about the attack on Tuesday.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he is “feeling much better” and recovering physically but “mentally it takes time”.

The journalist returned to work earlier this month, and said he “insisted” on going back on air.

He recalled the attack, saying he was going to his car to head to the studio when a “suspicious” looking man approached him and asked for £3.

After telling him he did not have any change, Mr Zeraati said a second man approached and grabbed him before the first man stabbed him in the leg and the pair made off.

The reporter said a third man was waiting in a car to drive them away.

He told Today: “I just noticed all my belongings are with me, including my mobile phones, my watch, my AirPods, my wallet with cash in it, so the moment I just saw everything is with me, I noticed this is regarding my job, because it wasn’t a robbery.”