Iranian plot to assassinate two news presenters in London uncovered by double agent

Iran’s hostility towards the network dates back to its launch in 2017, labeling it a “terrorist organization” and a “public enemy.” (II/File)
Iran’s hostility towards the network dates back to its launch in 2017, labeling it a “terrorist organization” and a “public enemy.” (II/File)
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Updated 22 December 2023
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Iranian plot to assassinate two news presenters in London uncovered by double agent

Iranian plot to assassinate two news presenters in London uncovered by double agent
  • ITV exposed the foiled plot saying the double agent worked for a Western intelligence agency
  • Iran International has been subject to threats by Iran’s government

LONDON: An Iranian plot orchestrated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to assassinate two network anchors from Iran International television station in London during the 2022 anti-government protests in Iran has been exposed by ITV.

In a report published on Wednesday, the British network said the elaborate scheme was thwarted thanks to a “double agent” embedded within the operation, who, unknown to the IRGC, was working for a Western intelligence agency.

According to the double agent, who spoke to ITV on condition of anonymity, the mastermind behind the plot was Mohammad Reza Ansari, the IRGC commander responsible for orchestrating extraterritorial assassinations.

Ansari, previously sanctioned by the US Treasury for failed attempts on the lives of former US officials Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, is based in Syria and reportedly has ties to the family of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

ITV reported that Ansari hired and directed the double agent through another Assad associate, Mohammad Abd Al-Razek Kanafani.

The hitman was instructed first to use a car bomb near Iran International’s offices in West London and then a “quiet” way, such as stabbing with a kitchen knife, to kill his targets, news presenters Sima Sabet and Fardad Farahzad.

The operation was codenamed “Wedding,” with Sabet and Farahzad referred to as the “bride” and “groom,” respectively, unbeknownst to them until revealed by ITV.

According to ITV, the double agent — who was promised $200,000, a new identity and “a safe passage to Iran via Syria” — was told the two presenters had to be targeted because they were causing the Iranian regime “a lot of humiliation in the media.”

He reported being told by IRGC commanders in October last year “this London thing must be done in any circumstances,” and that Iran’s intention was to show critics of the regime they “could do harm to them at any time.”

Iran’s hostility towards the network dates back to its launch in 2017, labeling it a “terrorist organization” and a “public enemy.”

The threats against Iran International journalists escalated in November 2022, prompting the network to temporarily relocate to Washington DC due to advice from the London Metropolitan Police.

Despite the move, direct threats persisted, leading to the network’s decision to close its London studios. However, operations resumed in September 2023 from a new London-based high-security building.

The ITV report coincided with a UK court’s guilty verdict for Magomed-Husejn Dovtaev, a Chechnya-born man who gathered information on Iran International’s London headquarters for a possible terror attack. The final sentence is expected on Friday.

“This trial was a reminder of the threats journalists and news organizations face,” Iran International said in a statement after the verdict was announced.

“We will not be cowed by threats. Our journalists will continue to provide the independent, uncensored news the people of Iran deserve.”


Meta takes down Israeli settlers’ accounts following attacks on aid convoys

Meta takes down Israeli settlers’ accounts following attacks on aid convoys
Updated 24 May 2024
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Meta takes down Israeli settlers’ accounts following attacks on aid convoys

Meta takes down Israeli settlers’ accounts following attacks on aid convoys
  • Platform said Tzav 9’s operations violated harm policy
  • Arab News learns that group behind several raids on trucks directed to Gaza resumed operations under different username

LONDON: Meta has deactivated the accounts of a group of Israeli settlers after a series of attacks on aid convoys bound for Gaza.

The right-wing Israeli group Tzav 9 (Order 9) has been responsible for organizing attacks on trucks carrying food, medicines, and other essential supplies to the Gaza Strip.

According to a report by Middle East Eye, the group, which used both Facebook and Instagram to coordinate raids on convoys, was suspended for violating Meta’s Coordinating Harm policy.

This prohibits users from using the platform to “facilitate, organize, promote, or admit” criminal activities.

Meta confirmed on Thursday that Tzav 9’s operations fell under this policy.

The group has claimed responsibility for several attacks, including blocking a convoy from Jordan to Gaza at a checkpoint in the Hebron Hills region last week.

During these attacks, members affiliated to the group threw goods on the ground and set fire to two trucks.

Arab News has learned that, at the time of writing, Tzav 9 appears to have resumed activity on Instagram under a similar username.

Links in the account’s bio redirect to what appears to be the group’s website and WhatsApp channel.

Arab News has reached out to Meta for comments.

Meanwhile, Tzav 9’s accounts on X and TikTok are still active.

Several reports indicate that the group has been attacking humanitarian convoys since January in a bid to demand the release of hostages held by Hamas.

Tzav 9 states on its website that, besides blocking aid convoys, the group’s goal is to “prevent the legitimization of UNRWA (the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) in the country, in accordance with the nature and actions of the terrorist organization.”

This reference relates to allegations made by Israeli authorities in January, accusing 12 UNRWA employees of involvement in attacks on Israel on Oct. 7, 2023, later expanding this claim to 19 employees and 400 personnel.

These allegations, which led several nations to cut funding to UNRWA at a critical time, have largely been dismissed after Israel failed to provide supporting evidence.

Meta has faced pressure to tackle media accounts on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since Oct. 7, and has been accused of inciting violence or disseminating misinformation.

The tech giant introduced temporary measures to limit “potentially unwelcome or unwanted comments” on posts about the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

This tool, which changed the default setting for who can comment on new public Facebook posts, ultimately failed to meet its objectives.

Human Rights Watch accused Meta in December of “broken promises” after finding the company guilty of “systemic censorship of Palestinian content” and failing to “meet its human rights due diligence responsibilities.”

The nongovernmental organization attributed these issues to “flawed Meta policies and their inconsistent and erroneous implementation, over-reliance on automated tools to moderate content, and undue government influence over content removals.”


Fake US election-related accounts proliferating on X, study says

Fake US election-related accounts proliferating on X, study says
Updated 24 May 2024
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Fake US election-related accounts proliferating on X, study says

Fake US election-related accounts proliferating on X, study says
  • Cyabra’s analysts found that 15 percent of X accounts praising former President Donald Trump and criticizing President Joe Biden are fake
  • Despite X pledge to ‘purge bots and trolls,’ fake accounts on the platform are on the rise

NEW YORK: Fake accounts posting about the US presidential election are proliferating on the social media platform X, according to a social media analysis company’s report shared with Reuters exclusively ahead of its release on Friday.
Analysts from Israeli tech company Cyabra, which uses a subset of artificial intelligence called machine learning to identify fake accounts, found that 15 percent of X accounts praising former President Donald Trump and criticizing President Joe Biden are fake. The report also found that 7 percent of accounts praising Biden, a Democrat, and criticizing Trump, a Republican, are fake.
Cyabra’s study is based on a review of posts on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter, over two months beginning March 1. The review included analyzing popular hashtags and determining sentiment in terms of whether posts are positive, negative or neutral.
The analysis shows that newly detected fake accounts had increased up to tenfold during March and April.
The report cites 12,391 inauthentic pro-Trump profiles out of 94,363 total and 803 inauthentic pro-Biden profiles out of 10,065 total.
A spokesperson for X did not respond to a request for comment about the fake accounts, nor did representatives from the White House and Trump campaign.
X and other social media platforms have been under greater scrutiny since 2016, when Russia interfered in the US presidential election in an attempt to boost Trump’s candidacy and harm his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton. Election officials and online misinformation experts are again watching for misleading narratives ahead of the Nov. 5 election.
The fake accounts praising Trump this cycle are part of a coordinated campaign to sway public opinion and influence online discussions, Cyabra said. The report did not identify the individuals or groups behind the campaign.
Cyabra said it made that determination based on evidence including the use of identical hashtags and the fact that fake accounts published posts and comments at the same time. The report found that the fake pro-Trump accounts pushed two main messages: “Vote for Trump” and “Biden is the worst president the US has ever had.”
“The level of coordination suggests that there is a nefarious objective and that there is a whole operation in order to change people’s opinion,” said Cyabra’s vice president, Rafi Mendelsohn.
The fake accounts backing Biden are not part of a coordinated campaign, the report said, as the hallmarks of a coordinated campaign — such as fake accounts posting at the same time — were not identified.
X, which was publicly held until its 2022 takeover by billionaire Elon Musk, has long downplayed the use of fake accounts on its platform. Twitter said in May 2022 that fewer than 5 percent of its daily active users were “false or spam” based on an internal review of accounts. At the time, Cyabra had estimated that 13.7 percent of Twitter profiles were inauthentic.
In an X post on April 4, Musk wrote that a “system purge of bots and trolls” was under way and that the company “will be tracing the people responsible and bringing the full force of the law to bear upon them.” In October the company tested its “Not a Bot” program in New Zealand and the Philippines to combat bots and spammers.


Saudi content creator is among 50 chosen for new TikTok Change Makers program

Saudi content creator is among 50 chosen for new TikTok Change Makers program
Updated 23 May 2024
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Saudi content creator is among 50 chosen for new TikTok Change Makers program

Saudi content creator is among 50 chosen for new TikTok Change Makers program
  • 4 creators from region chosen for 6-month initiative spotlighting users who use TikTok to ‘create meaningful change in their communities’

DUBAI: A content creator in Saudi Arabia is one of 50 from around the world chosen by TikTok to take part in its new Change Makers program, which the company said will spotlight creators and non-profit organizations “who create meaningful change in their communities” through their use of the short-form video platform.

During the six-month initiative, TikTok will support selected creators by helping them reach wider audiences and build greater engagement on the platform. It will also offer them assistance with real-world opportunities in the form of dedicated tools and by providing resources and donations.

The platform has chosen 50 creators from around the world, including four from the Middle East and North Africa region, to participate in the new program. Abdullah Al-Alawi, a dentist in Saudi Arabia who uses TikTok to share health-related information in a fun and lighthearted manner, is one of them.

“I’m passionate about spreading content about health, giving back to the community and the environment,” he told Arab News.

Social media “has broken down old barriers, making it easier to reach more people, quickly” and “become a bigger part of our lives,” he added.

Al-Alawi said his main purpose when creating content is “delivering an impactful and positive message that can be beneficial to the community.”

Ensuring such helpful information gets noticed among the mass of content on social media is a challenge, he added, but creators nevertheless have a “big role and responsibility” to provide it and try to make sure it reaches as wide an audience as possible.

“The way people learn has changed and they rely a lot more on social media for updates and getting answers,” Al-Alawi said.

“It’s part of my responsibility, as a content creator, to share my experiences and provide reliable information.”

The other creators in the region chosen for Change Makers are: UAE-based Dr. Jana Bou Reslan, a university lecturer who teaches educational psychology; Abdullah Annan from Egypt, known as “The Arab Science Guy” on TikTok, who makes videos that explain scientific concepts in simple terms; and Mai Gamal, also from Egypt, who is a certified nutritionist and health coach.

As part of the program, TikTok has launched the Change Makers Grant, through which it will donate over $1 million to more than 30 global and local non-profit organizations. The company will also make a $25,000 direct donation on behalf of each of its chosen Change Makers to a non-profit of their choice.

“We’re proud to launch the TikTok Change Makers program to help social-impact creators and non-profit organizations reach more communities, unlock real-world opportunities, and bring about lasting, meaningful change,” said Kim Farrell, the platform’s head of creators.


Riyadh Season’s ad campaign wins Sports Emmy award

Riyadh Season’s ad campaign wins Sports Emmy award
Updated 23 May 2024
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Riyadh Season’s ad campaign wins Sports Emmy award

Riyadh Season’s ad campaign wins Sports Emmy award
  • “Battle of the Baddest: Rumble” has been recognized in the Outstanding Promotional Announcement category

LONDON: The Riyadh Season “Battle of the Baddest: Rumble” advertising campaign has scooped a Sports Emmy in the Outstanding Promotional Announcement category.

The 45th awards took place on Tuesday at the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in New York City, US.

The promotional campaign, crafted by creative agencies Droga5 and Accenture Song, was created for last year’s boxing match between former world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury and former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou.

The event, which took place in October, was one of the highlights of Riyadh Season and garnered 12 awards from 32 nominations at international creative festivals.

The campaign was developed in collaboration with the General Entertainment Authority, Saudi Media Group, American sports channels ESPN and ESPN+, and production company Park Pictures.

Scott Bell, chief creative officer at Droga5 NY, described the project as “a labor of love.”

“It’s deeply gratifying to see it resonate so profoundly,” he said during the ceremony. “Our team at Droga5 and Accenture Song, along with our amazing partners, poured their hearts into creating something truly special.

“This win is a testament to the power of creative collaboration and the enduring appeal of storytelling in sports.”

He also thanked the team at Riyadh Season, SMG, and Turki Alalshikh, the chairman of the GEA, for their support.

Alalshikh’s Instagram account shared a link to the advert on YouTube and described the Sports Emmy achievement as “exceptional.”

The 90-second film is inspired by an old boxing saying, “Living rent-free in your opponent’s head,” which depicts the intense psychological and physical preparations by contenders before a fight.

The campaign’s creators and the GEA have won several other accolades, including from The One Show, the ADC Awards, The Clios, The Andys, the Shots Awards, and at Dubai Lynx, where they won three Grand Prix, two golds, five silvers and three bronzes. 


Telly Awards names Asharq Network the ‘Telly Company of the Year!’ for 2024

Telly Awards names Asharq Network the ‘Telly Company of the Year!’ for 2024
Updated 23 May 2024
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Telly Awards names Asharq Network the ‘Telly Company of the Year!’ for 2024

Telly Awards names Asharq Network the ‘Telly Company of the Year!’ for 2024
  • Asharq Network wins over 100 awards across gold, silver, and bronze categories

RIYADH/DUBAI: Asharq Network, the leading multi-platform Arabic news provider, has once again been recognized for its commitment to excellence, winning 117 awards, including 12 gold, 49 silver, and 56 bronze, at the prestigious ‘Telly Awards’. Notably, the network was named “Telly Company of the Year”.  

Established in 1979 in the United States, the ‘Telly Awards’ celebrate excellence across a wide range of categories, from traditional cable television commercials to cutting-edge digital content. Major international brands and companies such as CNN, Fox News, HBO, and Time Warner, also actively participate in these prestigious awards.  

The prominent awards recognize Asharq Network’s ingenuity in covering the biggest stories that go ‘Beyond the Frame’.

Since its launch in 2020, Asharq Network has established itself as a leading Arabic multi-platform, earning over 150 global and regional awards for its high-quality programming and content.

In 2023, Asharq Network significantly expanded and diversified its portfolio by adding new audio and video platforms to meet the evolving demands of Arabic-speaking audiences. This included the launch of Asharq QuickTake, Asharq Podcasts, Asharq Documentary, Radio Asharq with Bloomberg, and Asharq Discovery in partnership with Warner Bros. Discovery. This expansion has further solidified the network's position as the fastest-growing news platform on social media. 

Asharq Network competed against a record-breaking 13,000 entries from 5 continents.

In addition to being named the “Telly Company of the Year”, the network’s brands won several other prominent awards. Asharq Business with Bloomberg received a Gold, a Silver and three Bronze Awards in the Video Journalism category for the “Asharq Business with Bloomberg Tech+” show. The “Asharq News Conflict in Darfur Story” won three Silver Awards in the Explainers category, and its coverage of ‘COP 28’ earned two Silver Awards in the Show Opening Segment category.  

Asharq Documentary, Asharq Discovery and Asharq Podcasts also won prestigious ‘Telly Awards’. Moataz Aziaza’s documentary promo on Asharq Documentary and the idents on Asharq Discovery were both recognized for their excellence. Additionally, ‘Asharq Podcasts Launch Promo’ won multiple awards in the Promotional Video Editing category. 

Nabeel Alkhatib, General Manager of Asharq News, commented: “Being named the ‘Telly Company of the Year’ is a testament to the dedication and creativity of the entire Asharq Network team. This achievement reaffirms our commitment to delivering in-depth analysis and insightful perspectives on the stories, people and events shaping the world today. Our mission is to set a new industry standard by providing content that truly resonates with our diverse audience.”

Steven Cheak, Director of Creative & Branding Services at Asharq News, said: “Being recognized by the prestigious Telly Awards is a great honor for our team. And to be able to compete against such a distinguished lineup of network brands, advertising agencies, and production companies only serves to motivate us to go even further.”  

Cheak added: “This honor reflects our tireless efforts to push the boundaries, and ultimately create content that captivates, informs, and inspires audiences worldwide. I would like to congratulate the creative team, who works every day to enrich the way we provide content across all our platforms.”