PUNE: In 2012, when the Special Branch of the city police deported a 40-year-old Iranian national suspected of spying on Israelis and Jewish establishments in the city, hardly did they know that a group of more than 20 Iranian nationals associated with Iran’s government were operating a Facebook group called ISI (Pakistan) Pune-India.
The members of the Facebook group were living in Pune and Hyderabad. The group was administered by six persons, who have been identified as Ahed Mokhbar, Reza Lashi, Morteza Lashi, Paya F Bahman, Mohsen Sami Mohammadi Nejad and Keivan Karimi.
The administrators added around 20 people to group, including a few who are Pakistani nationals. This group is now under the scanner of the intelligence agencies.
THE PUNE CONNECTION
More than a dozen of the group’s members were studying in Pune at the time. According to information available with Sakal Times, They were suspected to be on the pay roll of the Ministry of Intelligence of Iran, which is also known as ‘Vezarat-e-Ettela’at Jomhuri-ye Eslami-ye Iran’. It is also known as Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS).
According to Stratfor, a geopolitical intelligence platform, MOIS is the Iran’s premier civilian external intelligence service, which besides its official agents also employs non-official covers including students, professors, journalists and employees of state-owned airline and banks. Its strength was considered to be 15,000 employees in year 2006 and is estimated to be more than 30,000 at present.
The MOIS chief is always a cleric. Training for MOIS officers begins with their recruitment in Iran and like all employees of the Iranian government, its intelligence officers should be strict Twelver Shias. Their loyalty to Iran is tested often during their training at Northern Tehran and Qoms. Before training, they go through a lengthy background check by counter intelligence and intelligence officers. According to sources, Ahad Mokhbar was the chief architect of the ISI (Pakistan) Pune-India group on Facebook as well as on field gathering of intelligence. Other important members of the group were Reza and Morteza Lashi .
SOCIAL MEDIA SHUTDOWN
A source, on condition of anonymity, told Sakal Times, “The activities of the group were suspicious and by the time their cover got blown in 2014 some of them had left the country. However, some are still in India. Their cover got blown on Facebook due to a simple mistake made by them after their group came into the public domain. After information was revealed to investigating authorities, all of them stopped operating the group.” A police officer who has worked on this case, on the condition of anonymity, said, “We were informed about the suspicious activity of the group a year and half ago. We were also informed of them supporting ISI on their Facebook posts. Although we have searched rigorously for them at various places and through various sources across the city, it seems they have left the country now.”
AT HOME IN PUNE
- Although Mokhbar was studying in Osmania University, Hyderabad, the rest namely, Reza Lashi, Morteza Lashi, Paya F Bahman, Mohsen Sami Mohammadi Nejad, Keivan Karimi and Hooman Ghalamboor Dezfooli Najes were staying in Pune.
- A female member was also a part of the group and was identified as Roshanak Jendeh Shirazi, who used to study at Poona College and was suspected to be a non-official cover of the Ministry of Intelligence of Iran.
- Malik Mukhtiar Saggu, Mohammad Shoaib, Arif Afridi and Ahsan Akhtar were Pakistani nationals added to group by Mokhbar and others.