Albania has frozen all diplomatic ties with Iran and asked diplomats to leave the country by Thursday (8 September) over a series of cyber-attacks, including one this summer that brought all government services to a standstill.
Prime Minister Edi Rama announced on Wednesday that all diplomatic ties would be cut and all 15 diplomats leave the country within 24 hours.
“In cooperation with specialised digital anti-terrorist partner agencies, it was first discovered that the 15 July cyber attack on Albania was state aggression. The in-depth investigation provided indisputable evidence that the Islamic Republic of Iran sponsored the aggression,” Rama told the media.
He added that the government has irrefutable evidence that the Iranian government carried out the evidence by groups that have also attacked Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Cyprus.
“We have informed our strategic allies, NATO, and shared irrefutable results. The Council of Ministers has decided with immediate effect the termination of diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran”, he said.
The cyberattack started on 15 July, bringing all government websites and the e-Albania portal offline. It also saw Rama’s emails hacked and swathes of correspondence and documents leaked online. The government brought in experts from the FBI, NATO, and a US security company to help them get their systems back online.
After the cyber attack, the e-Albania government portal restored 1118 of the 1225 electronic services it offers citizens.
US will take action
American ambassador Yuri Kim told the media that the US would take action against Iran for the cyber attack on Albania.
“We have seen the statement made by Prime Minister Rama today at noon. The White House has responded immediately and forcefully. It should be clear that when our friend and ally, Albania, is under attack, the US will take action”, said Kim.
The White House issued a statement condemning the attack and expressing support for Albania.
“The United States will take further action to hold Iran accountable for actions that threaten the security of a U.S. ally and set a troubling precedent for cyberspace,” it notes.
Albania is home to the MEK group (People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran), who were transferred to Albania from an Iraqi refugee camp in 2016.
The group was founded in 1965 to oppose the US-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, engaging in armed conflict during the 1970s. Their activities continued for decades until they forged an alliance with Iraq and sided with them during the Iraq-Iran war.
MEK was previously designated as a terrorist organisation by the EU, Canada, US and Japan, but this was repealed. They were given protection in 2004 by the US government under the Geneva Convention.
They aim to overthrow the Iranian government, and some 1000 members currently live in a closed, heavily guarded compound 40km outside of Tirana.
In 2018, the Albanian government expelled two Iranian diplomats, including the ambassador, for “damaging national security” and allegedly being involved in planning an attack on an Israel-Albania football match.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]