Pouria Zeraati: TV station Iran International faced 'heavy threats' before stabbing

The stabbing of an Iranian TV news channel presenter follows "heavy threats" made to the London-based station, a spokesman has said.

Iran International presenter Pouria Zeraati, 36, was attacked by a group outside his home in Wimbledon, south London.

On Saturday he posted a picture smiling from his hospital bed as he recovers.

Counter-terrorism officers are leading the investigation, while the Iranian regime has denied any involvement.

London-based Iran International aims to provide independent coverage of events in the country, but the regime in Tehran has declared it a terrorist organisation.

Its spokesman Adam Baillie told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the station had been under "threat, heavy threats" for 18 months.

He said the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has been targeting journalists and their families.

"Along with our colleagues at BBC Persian, Iran International has been under threat, very heavy threats, for the last 18 months since the IRGC said 'we're coming for you', which they have consistently repeated," Mr Baillie said.

The IRGC "get in touch through proxies, they don't leave a paper trail", he said.

"No one's going to call up from the IRGC and go 'hey, it's us', but families have been taken in for questioning and threatened," Mr Baillie said.

He added: "The scale of that has increased dramatically over the last few months and the scale and the type of questioning is more aggressive. 'Tell your relatives to stop working for this channel' and so on."

The incident was "hugely frightening", he said, but Mr Zeraati was "doing very well" and recovering.

Later on Saturday, Mr Zeraati posted a photo of himself in hospital on X, formerly Twitter, making a peace or V for victory sign.

Mr Baillie was asked what he believed lay behind the attack.

"We can't say," he said. "The fact that counter-terrorism is leading the investigation probably speaks for itself."

The Metropolitan Police said the motivation for the attack on Friday was not yet clear, but Mr Zeraati's occupation coupled with recent threats towards UK-based Iranian journalists meant the investigation was being led by specialist counter-terrorism officers.

Iran International presenter and former BBC World Service journalist Sima Sabet reported on X that police had urged her to leave her home following the attack on Mr Zeraati.

She wrote that Revolutionary Guards had attempted to assassinate her and a colleague last year.

While she said she awaited the police investigation, she added: "This attack is an extremely troubling act for all journalists and opponents of the Islamic Republic in Britain and other Western countries."

She praised the police response but said the UK government "has not taken sufficient, meaningful, decisive and effective political action".

She added: "London is our home. Britain must be a safe place for journalists across all media."

The UK announced sanctions in January against members of the IRGC's Unit 840 following an investigation by ITV into plots to assassinate two Iran International presenters in the UK.

At the time, Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron said "the Iranian regime and the criminal gangs who operate on its behalf pose an unacceptable threat to the UK's security".

Iran International resumed its operations in London last September after temporarily moving its broadcasting studios to Washington DC in February 2023 because of a "significant escalation in state-backed threats from Iran".

In a separate case in December last year, Magomed-Husejn Dovtaev, a Chechen-born Austrian national, was jailed for three-and-a-half years for spying on Iran International before a "planned attack" on UK soil.

According to the Met Police, since the start of 2022, 15 plots to either kidnap or kill UK-based individuals perceived as enemies of the Iranian regime had been foiled.

Commander Dominic Murphy, head of the Met's counter-terrorism command unit, said officers were keeping an open mind as to any motivation behind the attack.

Mr Murphy said extra patrols were being sent to the area of the attack in south London and "other sites around London" as a precaution.

No arrests have been made.

Nearly 18 months ago, Iran International became one of the main providers of news during a wave of anti-government protests in Iran.

Reacting to Friday's incident, Tory MP Alicia Kearns, the chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, described the stabbing as "deeply upsetting".

"Whilst we don't know the circumstances of this attack, Iran continues to hunt down those brave enough to speak out against the regime," she said on X..

"Yet I remain unconvinced that we and our allies have clear strategies to protect people in our countries from them, and protect our interests abroad."