Iranian Spy Cell in Germany Focused on Berlin Jewish Centers in Search for Potential Targets, Report Says

Sources says searches in members' apartments revealed they were spying on Jewish institutions; 'secret intelligence unit ascribed to Iran' arrested earlier this week

Rabbi inspect with a construction worker a giant Hanukkah Menorah, set up by the Jewish Chabad Educational Center, at the Pariser Platz in Berlin, Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Markus Schreiber/AP

Searches of the flats of suspected Iranian spies in Germany earlier this week were connected to their activities aimed at Jewish facilities in Berlin, the weekly news magazine Focus reported on Friday, citing intelligence sources.

The secret service sources told the magazine that the Iranians were looking at potential targets to attack, including the influential American Jewish Committee (AJC), Focus said.

An orthodox Jewish community at Berlin's central Alexanderplatz square and its rabbi had also been under surveillance by Tehran's agents, the German intelligence sources told the magazine. Also on the list of the Iranian secret service was the gymnastics and sports club Makkabi.

Focus said that the AJC is demanding that Berlin expel Iranian Ambassador Ali Majedia. The ambassador had been called into the Foreign Ministry two days before Christmas Eve, with officials demanding that he should appeal to Tehran for an immediate stop to spying against German interests.

Josef Schuster, chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told Focus that "this action should not go unpunished." In view of its espionage activities, Iran could not be a partner with the German government, he said, nor should Germany put economic interests ahead of its internal security.

The Focus report comes after the German Federal Prosecutor ordered searches of apartments and business premises of 10 suspected Iranian agents around the country. 

The accused were suspected of having spied on institutions and people in Germany at the behest of "a secret intelligence unit ascribed to Iran," the top German prosecution office said, without divulging further details.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to comment directly on news of the arrest. However, he did say, "We have helped thwart at least 30 major attacks in dozens of countries in the past two years or so, including in cases involving civilian aviation. I would say that no other intelligence service in the world has thwarted more (attacks) than ours has."