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Who are the Iranian men reportedly released in exchange for Kylie Moore-Gilbert? 

Nov 26, 2020 | Naomi Levin

Iranian state media shows prisoners being welcomed back to Teheran. It is believed the man in the wheelchair is Saeid Moradi.
Iranian state media shows prisoners being welcomed back to Teheran. It is believed the man in the wheelchair is Saeid Moradi.

Who are the three Iranian men reportedly released in exchange for University of Melbourne academic Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert?

In 2018, Dr Moore-Gilbert, an Australian Islamic studies and Middle East affairs academic, was sentenced to 10 years in prison by the Islamic Republic of Iran on espionage charges. She had travelled to Iran for an academic conference.

On Nov. 26 2020, the Australian Government announced she had been released from prison and would return home. At the time, Foreign Minister Senator Marise Payne said, “The Australian Government has constantly rejected the grounds on which the Iranian Government arrested, detained and convicted Dr Moore-Gilbert.”

Reporting on her release, Iranian state media claimed that Dr Moore-Gilbert, who grew up in the NSW country town of Bathurst, was a “Zionist spy” on behalf of the “Israeli military intelligence service.”

While there was a palpable sense of relief when Dr Moore-Gilbert’s release was announced – she has been kept in squalid conditions in oppressive prisons in a country that has completely failed to control coronavirus transmission – what was the price?

Neither the Australian nor the Iranian Government has officially confirmed a prisoner swap, but media reports indicate that at the same time as Dr Moore-Gilbert was released so too were three Iranian nationals imprisoned for their role in attempting to harm or kill Israeli diplomats in Thailand in 2012.

Quoting social media linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the New York Times, reported that Saeed Moradi, Mohammad Khazaei and Masoud Sedaghat Zadeh had arrived back in Iran as Dr Moore-Gilbert was released. Iranian state media released footage of three men being ceremoniously welcomed back.

While it was difficult to identify the men in their hats and face masks, neither the Iranian regime nor the Thai Government has denied the reports. Australian media has also reported that “diplomatic sources” have confirmed the swap.

Moradi, Khazei and Sedaghat Zadeh were behind a failed plot in 2012 to target Israeli diplomats in Thailand during a coordinated series of attacks that also hit India and Georgia.

Bangkok and New Delhi security services confirmed Israeli officials were the target when Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu named the Islamic Republic as the culprit.

The New Delhi bombing left four seriously injured, including the wife of an Israeli diplomat. The car she had been travelling in was blown up after a motorcyclist affixed a device to it and then sped off. She later expressed relief that her two children, whom she was on the way to collect from school, had not been in the car.

On the same day, in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, an embassy worker discovered a package taped to his car. He called local security forces, who identified it as a bomb and defused it before it caused damage.

The Thai plot was an even more embarrassing failure. The explosives the Iranian nationals had been preparing blew the roof off their downtown Bangkok rental property. Another bomb detonated as the men fled the house injuring six people, including Moradi, who lost both his legs in the explosion.

Following the Bangkok explosion, Moradi and Khazaei, were arrested immediately. Khazaei received a 15-year sentence for possessing explosives and Moradi was given a life sentence for attempted murder after the Thai court found he had tried to throw the second bomb at Thai police.

The third man, Sedaghat Zadeh, managed to flee to Malaysia, but was eventually extradited back to Thailand. The charges and/or details of his sentence remain unclear. Media reports state he was the mastermind of the operation and that he has links to the IRGC. India’s Central Bureau of Investigations has also issued an arrest warrant for him on terrorism offences.

Following the sentencing of Moradi and Khazaei in Thailand, Netanyahu issued a statement.

He said the convictions are “are yet another clear demonstration of the Iranian global involvement in terrorism.  We have seen Iranian/Hezbollah terrorist operations in Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, in countries across the planet. This involvement can simply not be denied. The Iranians both directly conduct attacks, and – when it suits their interests – work through proxies like Hezbollah. I would hope that the convictions in Bangkok will serve as a wakeup call to those in the international community who have illusions about Iranian behaviour.

“This terrorist action is yet another chapter in a well-documented global campaign of the Iranian Government to kill Jews, Israelis and especially Israeli diplomats. In all of their attempts, it was clear that the Iranian agents use any means necessary to achieve their goal, even at the risk of life and limb of non-Israeli peaceful civilians.”

While there is relief that Dr Moore-Gilbert is now being safely returned home to Australia, if it was indeed the case that these three terrorists have been freed in order obtain her release, the price was arguably a high one.

Iran’s morally repugnant policy of seizing innocent people like Kylie Moore-Gilbert in order to extort law-abiding countries to free terrorist Iranian nationals is another example of the Islamic Republic’s continued ruthless and indefensible behaviour.

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