Iranian Diplomats Leave Embassy in Albania After Expulsion

A policeman stands guard outside the Iranian Embassy in Tirana, Albania, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022. Albania cut diplomatic ties with Iran and expelled the country’s embassy staff over a major cyberattack nearly two months ago that was allegedly carried out by Tehran on Albanian government websites, the prime minister said Wednesday. (AP Photo/Franc Zhurda)

The last staff of the Iranian Embassy in Tirana left the building Thursday after they were given 24 hours to leave Albania over a major cyberattack that the Albanian government blames on Iran.

It is the first known case of a country cutting diplomatic relations over a cyberattack.

The final two embassy cars with about 10 passengers left the compound Thursday near noon after much movement inside the building overnight.

Albanian special police forces and officers were seen surrounding the compound, which still flew the Iranian flag, immediately after the Iranians left.

Movement inside the Iranian embassy in Tirana had been nonstop overnight. An empty barrel was seen taken into the compound and later a fire was started in it, apparently burning documents. A diplomatic car went in and out, while an Albanian police officer communicated with the embassy before two officers entered and left after a few minutes.

On July 15, a cyberattack temporarily shut down numerous Albanian government digital services and websites. Prime Minister Edi Rama said Wednesday that there was “undeniable evidence” that the Iranian government was behind the attack.

The United States supported the move by Albania, a NATO member, and vowed unspecified retaliation against Iran for what it called “a troubling precedent for cyberspace.”

Iran condemned the diplomats’ expulsion, calling the action ill-considered and short-sighted, according to Iranian state TV.

In a statement, the Iranian Foreign Ministry denied Tehran was behind any cyberattack on Albanian government websites, adding that it’s Iran which is a target of such attacks on its critical infrastructure.

Ties between Iran and Albania have been tense since 2014 when Albania sheltered some 3,000 members of the Iranian opposition group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, or MEK, who had left Iraq.

In July, MEK had planned to hold the Free Iran World Summit in Manez, west of Tirana, with U.S. lawmakers among the invitees. The meeting was canceled “for security reasons and due to terrorist threats and conspiracies.”

In two separate instances in 2020 and 2018, Tirana expelled four Iranian diplomats for “threatening national security.”

– Llazar Semini, AP News

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