On March 10, Swedish deputy chief prosecutor Hans Ihrman confirmed that two Iranians suspected of plotting acts of terror, who had entered the country using fake identities, had been returned to Iran.
Swedish lawyers have said they were missing the final, decisive pieces of evidence they would have needed to prosecute the pair after an investigation by SÄPO, the Swedish Secret Services. The US had wanted them extradited, but according to Ihrman, the request did not arrive in time.
Who Were “Salma and Fouad”?
The two suspects entered Sweden in 2015 as refugees during a well-documented wave of migration from the Middle East to Europe. They applied for asylum under the names of Salma Khormaee and Fouad Malekshahi, claiming to be Afghan nationals.
The pair resided in Sweden for six years. Then in April 2021, they were arrested and charged with "planning to commit terrorist acts" in Sweden. Police then discovered they had lied about every aspect of their identities.
“Salma” was Fereshteh Sanai-Farid, born on June 8, 1982, rather than June 1993 in Kapisa as she’d said. “Fouad” was Mehdi Ramezani, born in Iran in November 4, 1982: nine years before the date on his identity card. On arrival in Sweden, the pair had asked for an Iranian interpreter because, having lived for many years in Iran, they could no longer understand certain words in Dari. “Salma” was also unable to spell the name of her birthplace in Latin characters.
The deception worked, though. And shortly before their first residency permits expired in 2020, the pair requested a three-year extension, which was duly renewed without question. It was not until last year that SÄPO – and separately, this writer – ascertained who they really were.
Little is known about the lives of Fereshteh Sanai-Farid and Mehdi Ramezani before they came to Sweden. They do, however, co-direct a business based on Resalat Avenue in Tehran, called the Farsima Mehr-Gostar Industrial Company. Registered in 2010, its stated activities include import-exports and organizing events.
SÄPO has alleged the couple knew about their mission from the moment that they set foot on the Swedish soil. In the intervening years they kept a low profile, were not active online and lived a very isolated life, even covering up their windows to avoid prying eyes. As they were Muslim and relatively new to the country, neighbours thought nothing of it.
A Tangle of Interests and Risks
Prosecutor Hans Ihrman has told the media: “The investigation stopped when I didn’t get the final, decisive proof I’d have needed. The material I had on my desk was not enough to prosecute.” As a result, he could not renew the order to keep the pair in custody past December 14 of last year.
Due to an intervention by the SÄPO, Sanai-Farid and Ramezani were not then released but kept at an immigration detention center. They remained there from mid-December until their deportation last week. The couple, Swedish officials said, were being deported in order to “neutralize the threat” to the lives of their intended targets.
According to Swedish officials, the US had wanted to put Sanai-Farid and Ramezani on trial but “deportation became the best option” when the extradition request was “delayed”. The details of the alleged plot have not been shared publicly, but the request suggests it may have been in some way aimed at Americans or Iranian-Americans.
SÄPO answers to the Ministry of Justice, rather than the country’s independent judiciary. The deportation comes at a time of high tensions between Iran and Sweden over ongoing criminal cases in both countries.
Hamid Nouri is still on trial for war crimes in Stockholm, two Swedish-Iranian brothers, Peyman and Payam Kia, are in custody over alleged espionage, and Ahmad Reza Jalali, an Iranian-Swedish physician and scientist, is on death row Iran. His captors have made his fate dependent on the release of Asadollah Asadi. At a meeting with Swedish counterpart in February, Iranian foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian once again brought up the trial of Hamid Nouri, which is expected to conclude soon.
Unlike Nouri, the allegations against “Salma and Fouad” will now likely never be tested in an open court. In all likelihood, the particulars of the case against them will remain unknown.