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Mohammad Davoudzadeh Loloei, a Terror Plot and Lessons Europe Learned

May 18, 2021
Kambiz Ghafouri
13 min read
Mohammad Davoudzadeh Loloei, a Terror Plot and Lessons Europe Learned

On September 28, 2018, reporters across Europe’s Scandinavian countries filed an urgent dispatch: “In an operation unprecedented since World War II, police in Denmark have closed the country’s land, air and sea borders.”

Danish police announced in a public statement that they were hunting for a Volvo car whose occupants were wanted in connection with “dangerous crimes”. For the time being at least, no further information would be made available.

In the coming days, this seismic operation led to the arrest of an Iranian-Norwegian dual national by the name of Mohammad Davoudzadeh Loloei, who has since been convicted on terrorism charges.


2018 was a bad year for the intelligence services of the Islamic Republic of Iran. That spring, in an operation that resembled something out of a James Bond movie, Israeli agents had stolen half a ton of documents about the Iranian nuclear program from dozens of giant safes in Tehran over the course of just six hours, 29 minutes.

Then in the summer, Asadollah Asadi, an Iranian diplomat formerly stationed in Vienna, was arrested for his part in an attempted bomb attack on the annual gathering of the opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization near Paris. He has since been jailed for 20 years.

Come the autumn, security agencies in Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway were alerted to another possible terror plot involving the Islamic Republic. European intelligence services had received reliable information that Iran was preparing to launch an attack in Denmark against the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz (ASMLA) in retaliation for its terror attack on a military parade in Ahvaz, the capital of Khuzestan province.

Immediately after the Ahvaz incident, an Iranian-Norwegian dual national by the name of Mohammad Davoudzadeh Loloei was personally assigned the task of gathering and updating information about Habib Jabor, a leader of the ASMLA, and his wife in Denmark.

Mohammad Davoudzadeh Loloei, a Terror Plot and Lessons Europe Learned

Opposition member Habib Jabor, one of the Islamic Republic’s intended assassination targets in Denmark

While Loloei was taking pictures of Jabor’s home and the roads leading to it on behalf of the Islamic Republic, Danish security agents were keeping tabs on him too. Louloui then returned to Norway, bought an airplane ticket and flew to Iran. The lead was temporarily lost, but European intelligence agencies knew by now a plot to assassinate Habib Jabor was afoot. What they did not know was when, or by whom.

Searching for a Black Volvo

The Scandinavian security services, especially those in Denmark, remained on high alert. Then during the afternoon of September 28, 2018, police received the abrupt news that a black Volvo V90 estate with the license plate ZBP-546, which had been stolen from the Swedish coastal city of Malmo some time earlier, was speeding towards Denmark with three people inside.

Danish police issued a statement asking the public to contact police if they saw such a car, but advised them to stay away from it themselves. The occupants, the statement said, were linked to “serious crimes”. It added: “We can say no more right now.”

Mohammad Davoudzadeh Loloei, a Terror Plot and Lessons Europe Learned

Crucial land routes including the Oresund Bridge between Sweden and Denmark were shut during the police operation

Oresund Bridge, which connects Sweden and Denmark, was closed as a security measure. But this was just the beginning; for the first time since World War II, police banned boats from leaving port, set up patrols at land boarders and closed the road between Funen and Zealand islands.

“I spent 41 years in the Danish police and I’ve never seen such a big operation before,” Hans Jørgen Bonnichsen, the former head of operations at the Danish Security and Intelligence Service (PET), told local media.

Mohammad Davoudzadeh Loloei, a Terror Plot and Lessons Europe Learned

 A police checkpoint on the bridge waits for the suspects to arrive in the stolen Volvo

Eventually, with Denmark locked down and with the help of security agents, sniffer dogs, boats and helicopters, the Danish police succeeded in finding the Volvo. But what happened next stunned both the anti-terrorism police and the passengers of the car.

The Unluckiest Criminals in the World

The security agencies had sprung into action prompted by the severity of the terror threat at the time and the speed of the Volvo’s trajectory towards Denmark. But when dozens of police, wearing protective gear and carrying explosive-detecting devices, opened the doors to the Volvo, they found the occupants had nothing to do with any terror plot. Rather, they were ordinary petty thieves who could not understand why so many police officers had been sent to arrest them.

Copenhagen Police Inspector Jørgen Bergen Skov later told reporters: “We feel certain that the black Volvo is not related to the threat…. It could turn out that they are the world’s most unlucky criminals, but that’s just the way it is.

“We react as if it’s a worst case scenario. That’s the way it is when police receive credible information. We need to ensure that there is no threat before we can stand down.”


Mohammad Davoudzadeh Loloei, a Terror Plot and Lessons Europe Learned

Copenhagen Police Inspector Jørgen Bergen Skov told reporters the arrested carjackers were the “unluckiest” criminals in the world

He added that the individuals Danish police had been targeted with a more “specific” threat were safe, and that there was no danger to the general public.

That day at least, police named none of their suspects. But by now, the real terrorists were aware that police knew about their plans and were ready to act. The gaffe by the Danish police meant the cell went dormant again.

Waiting for the Coordinator

The terrorist operatives might have gone into hiding, but police in northern European countries already had plenty of evidence about their plans. The same source that had handed over every detail of Asadollah Asadi’s plan to the central European security agencies had provided the Nordic countries’ intelligence services with the name of Mohammad Davoudzadeh Loloei and information about his mission and contacts.

On October 21, 2018, Loloei arrived at Gothenburg airport in Sweden on a flight from Tehran and was immediately arrested there by the Swedish Security Service (SÄPO). He had not expected prosecutors to have any evidence against him, and insisted that he knew nothing about any terrorist plot.

But the evidence against Louloui, including surveillance videos and his contact with a person in Iran by the name of Sajjadi, identified as the operation’s coordinator, convinced Norway to agree to the Loloei's extradition to Denmark.

International Reactions to the Terror Plot in Denmark

The arrest prompted an unusually strong response from these usually quiet Scandinavian countries and their European allies. Immediately afterward, Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen tweeted: “It is totally unacceptable that Iran or any other foreign state plans assassinations on Danish soil. Further actions against Iran will be discussed by the EU.”


Mohammad Davoudzadeh Loloei, a Terror Plot and Lessons Europe Learned

Denmark recalled its ambassador to Tehran, while Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen summoned Morteza Moradian, the Islamic Republic’s ambassador to Copenhagen.

In a statement issued after their meeting, Samuelsen expressed his anger at the Islamic Republic’s assassination attempt on Denmark’s soil and said the “gravity of the situation” had been made “crystal clear” to the ambassador. “Denmark will now be heading efforts to have the EU discuss the need for further sanctions against Iran, once again,” he announced.


Mohammad Davoudzadeh Loloei, a Terror Plot and Lessons Europe Learned

Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen warned of future sanctions against Iran after the plot was foiled

The foreign ministers of Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland then met in Norway and issued a joint statement promising: “Nordic countries stand shoulder to shoulder when faced with threats against our societies.”

They added: “We note with great concern the information by our Danish colleague on the recent foiled assassination plot in Denmark by an Iranian intelligence agency. At this moment, we express our full solidarity with our Danish friends and partners. We take the matter extremely seriously. Such activities are completely unacceptable.”

Separately, in a meeting with her Danish counterpart, British Prime Minister Theresa May declared the United Kingdom’s solidarity with Denmark in “standing up” to Iran.


Mohammad Davoudzadeh Loloei, a Terror Plot and Lessons Europe Learned

The Danish and British heads of state discussed “standing up” to the Islamic Republic after the arrest

On the other side of the Atlantic, the Trump administration was busy applying its “maximum pressure” policy to the Islamic Republic. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also congratulated the government of Denmark on Loloei's arrest. “For nearly 40 years, Europe has been the target of Iran-sponsored terrorist attacks,” he tweeted. “We call on our allies and partners to confront the full range of Iran’s threats to peace and security.”


Who Is Mohammad Davoudzadeh Louloui?

According to his Norwegian ID, Mohammad Davoudzadeh Loloei was born in 1979 and is said by other Iranians in Norway to have come to the country as a political refugee, just like the three Belgium-based co-conspirators of Asadollah Asadi.

Loloei was born in Ahvaz but spent his adolescence and college years in Isfahan. He gained a degree in ICT and software development from Isfahan University of Technology, followed by a master’s degree from the same university in 2004, after penning a dissertation entitled: “A Study of Methodologies Used in Search Engines.”

On graduating, he began working for the Ghetehkaran Manufacturing Company in Oshtorjan, an industrial town in Isfahan, and remained there until the summer of 2008.


Mohammad Davoudzadeh Loloei, a Terror Plot and Lessons Europe Learned

Mohammad Davoudzadeh Louloui

So far, so unremarkable. But then in 2008, according to his documents, Loloei abruptly moved to Norway. Sources in Oslo say he applied for political asylum and immediately began trying to make connections with Iranian opposition groups, including the People’s Mojahedin Organization, monarchists and leftists. These organizations, though, kept him at arm’s length – with good reason, as it turned out.

According to a resume Loloei put together in Norway, he had worked as an intern at Avinet, a Norwegian company, for four months. But then, starting in January 2011, he was hired by the Iranian Embassy in Oslo to lead a team working to expand its website. Later he was employed by various Iran-based companies, including work on a project for Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company.

Once he had received his Norwegian citizenship and passport, Loloei visited Iran many times. His activities always had a “cultural” cover, inviting Iranian artists and musicians to visit Norway to hold concerts, and arranging joint sports competitions. All this was calculated, with the aim of getting closer to both Norwegians and the Iranians living in Norway.

On the Embassy Reception Frontline

Loloei was involved in other activities as well. By registering several of his own companies and societies he tried both to enter commercial deals and to attract Norwegian personalities to the embassy of the Islamic Republic.

According to company records, he was the CEO of a firm called the Nordic Countries Trade Center, and director of the so-called Iran-Norway Friendship Society. The latter had contact with a number of Norwegian politicians over several years but was only officially registered in 2018, a few short months before his arrest.

When Loloei was arrested, the Norwegian TV network NRK broadcast video footage of Loloeiat a Nowruz celebration at the Iranian embassy in Oslo in March 2018, sitting in a front-row seat in the special section reserved for guests of the Iranian ambassador.

Next to him sat a few Norwegian politicians, including Per Sandberg, the Norwegian Minister of Fisheries, and his Iranian partner Bahareh Letnes, who also had come to Norway as a refugee. That same year, Per Sandberg was forced to resign after he traveled to Iran with Letnes without notifying his colleagues or following security protocols.

NRK blurred Loloei's face in its broadcast because, at the time, he had been charged but not yet convicted. The original video was finally aired for the first time by Norwegian Silkeveien (Silk Road) Radio, and Loloei's face was clearly visible in several of the shots.


Mohammad Davoudzadeh Loloei, a Terror Plot and Lessons Europe Learned

Mohammad Davoudzadeh Loloei, facing the camera, talking to Norwegian Fisheries Minister Per Sandberg at a March 2018 Iranian embassy reception in Oslo

In September 2018, the Islamic Republic’s intelligence services began to update their internal information about leaders of the ASMLA. Mohammad Davoudzadeh Loloei was selected for the job of conducting this “emergency operation”. But when he started his mission, he was not aware that he himself was being watched.

Mossad, the Islamic Republic’s Killjoy

In my previous report for IranWire, The Diplomat Bomber, Mysterious Notebooks and Turbulent Dreams, I explained that the information leading to the arrest of Asadollah Asadi was provided by Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency.

The Israelis had known this Iranian diplomat was planning to deliver an explosive device to operatives in Europe, but they did not know how he was going to get it. Similarly, they are understood to have passed on information about plans involving Loloei to the Danes.

Confirming the accuracy of the evidence that Denmark received, Hans Jorgen Bonnichsen, former head of Denmark’s Security and Intelligence Service (PET) told the Danish broadcaster DR it was "very rare" to see one intelligence agency – his – making claims against another – Iran – in the way it later did. "PET really thought about it before choosing that step," he said.

Louloui’s sentencing to seven years in prison, which was upheld by a high Danish court in May 2021, was the real testament to the evidence held against him. He himself denied the charges, just as Mehrdad Arefani and Nasimeh Naami, Asadi’s accomplices, have done in the Belgian courts.

Israelis, of course, followed its usual policy of “neither confirm nor deny” regarding delivering information to the Danish intelligence service. But the Israeli TV network KAN, quoting its own sources, affirmed that crucial information had been provided to the Europeans by Mossad.

“Handle it Amongst Yourselves”

After Loloei was sentenced, public prosecutor Soeren Harbo described the case as “a powerful message to [foreign] intelligence services: they have to handle their conflicts among themselves and stop involving us.”

But subsequently in April 2021, members of the ASMLA who had been the intended targets of the assassination were also charged by Denmark with financing and supporting terrorist activities in Iran, in collaboration with Saudi Arabian intelligence services.

"This is a very serious case in which persons in Denmark have carried out illegal intelligence activities and financed and promoted terrorism from Denmark in other countries," public prosecutor Lise-Lotte Nilas said in a statement.

Events over the past few decades have clearly shown that the policy of some European countries to largely ignore human rights violations by despotic regimes in the Middle East, and of treating assassinations and terrorist activities as “internal” or “regional” issues, will always come back to haunt them. Human rights are not a local issue; either everybody enjoys them or nobody can escape the consequences of their violation, even those in the safest places in the world. Terrorist activities by the Islamic Republic on European soil in recent years have brought this to the fore.

Related Coverage:

The Diplomat Bomber, Mysterious Notebooks and Turbulent Dreams

Iranian Diplomat Jailed for 20 Years Over Foiled Bomb Plot

Who is the Iranian Diplomat/Terrorist Mastermind of the Pizza Bomb?

Iranian Diplomats Linked to Assassinations in US State Department Report

The Terrorist I Knew as a Revolutionary Poet

Holy Terror: Iran's Criminal Record from Germany to Ethiopia

Abductions and Murder Through Embassies: The Islamic Republic's Terrorism Abroad

Drug Lords and Diplomatic Staff Linked to Telegram Dissident's Assassination in Turkey

Iran’s Intelligence Ministry has a History of Terrorism in Europe

Unprecedented Remarks by an Iranian Diplomat about Terrorist “Rogue” Elements in Europe



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