German army adviser goes on trial for spying for Iran

A German-Afghan translator for the German army goes on trial Monday along with his wife on charges of treason for allegedly spying for Iran.

German army adviser goes on trial for spying for Iran
The regional court in Koblenz. Photo: DPA

Abdul S., 51, stands accused of “a particularly serious case of treason” and of “violating state secrets” in 18 instances, according to the higher regional court of Koblenz in western Germany.

The suspect was arrested in January 2019, reportedly after a tip-off from abroad and an ensuing set-up to catch him in the act.

His 40-year-old wife Asiea S. will be in the dock with him, after prosecutors in December charged her with aiding and abetting treason.

Asiea S. is accused of “helping her husband from the very beginning” with his espionage activities for Iranian intelligence services, the Koblenz court said.

Abdul S. worked for several years as a civilian translator and cultural adviser to the German Bundeswehr at the Heinrich-Hertz barracks in the town of Daun, near Koblenz.

READ ALSO: Pakistani jailed in Germany for spying on Iran

Officials have been tight-lipped about the case, revealing no details about the information that was allegedly leaked.

Abdul S. himself “has yet to comment on the accusations against him”, the court said in a statement, adding that much of the legal proceedings will take place behind closed doors.

Abdul S. risks life in jail if found guilty, which in Germany usually means a sentence of at least 15 years.

His wife faces a maximum of 11 years in prison.

Taking the bait

According to Der Spiegel weekly, the hunt for the spy started in 2017 after Germany's military counterintelligence service (MAD) received a warning from “a friendly secret service” that Iran had an informant in the Bundeswehr.

MAD spycatchers quickly focussed their attention on Abdul S. after noticing that his trips to certain EU cities overlapped with those of a senior officer in Iran's secret service, Spiegel wrote in an in-depth article last year.

To confirm their suspicions, the MAD started to dripfeed Abdul S. fake documents that appeared to contain sensitive or classified information, and then watched as he reached out to his Iranian contact to set up meetings.

The MAD shared its findings with federal prosecutors, tasked with handling cases of national security, in the spring of 2018.

Spiegel said Abdul S.'s work for the German military included eavesdropping on phone calls or intercepted radio messages from the Taliban.

But it “is doubtful” that Abdul S. had access to classified information about the actions and deployments of German troops in Afghanistan, the weekly added.

Nevertheless, the case is embarrassing for the Bundeswehr since Abdul S. would have had to pass stringent background checks before being hired.

Germany's BfV domestic intelligence agency has identified Iran has one of the countries most active in spying on Germany, along with China and Russia.

Iranian spy services “are regularly looking for appropriate sources to cover the information needs of the regime”, the BfV said in a report.

In 2018, Germany arrested a Vienna-based Iranian diplomat suspected of being a spy, with prosecutors alleging he was plotting with a Belgium-based couple to bomb an Iranian opposition rally in Paris.

In another high-profile case, former German intelligence agent Markus Reichel was convicted in 2016 for spying for both the CIA and the Russian secret service.

In 2011, Germany jailed a married couple for spying for the Russian secret services for more than 20 years.

READ ALSO: Indian couple go on trial in Frankfurt for spying on Sikhs

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Germany arrests Russian scientist for spying for Moscow

German police arrested a Russian scientist working at an unidentified university, accusing him of spying for Moscow, prosecutors said on Monday, in a case that risks further inflaming bilateral tensions.

Germany arrests Russian scientist for spying for Moscow
Vladimir Putin. Photo: dpa/AP | Patrick Semansky

Federal prosecutors said in a statement that the suspect, identified only as Ilnur N., had been taken into custody on Friday on suspicion of “working for a Russian secret service since early October 2020 at the latest”.

Ilnur N. was employed until the time of his arrest as a research assistant for a natural sciences and technology department at the unnamed German university.

German investigators believe he met at least three times with a member of Russian intelligence between October 2020 and this month. On two occasions he allegedly “passed on information from the university’s domain”.

He is suspected of accepting cash in exchange for his services.

German authorities searched his home and workplace in the course of the arrest.

The suspect appeared before a judge on Saturday who remanded him in custody.

‘Completely unacceptable’

Neither the German nor the Russian government made any immediate comment on the case.

However Moscow is at loggerheads with a number of Western capitals after a Russian troop build-up on Ukraine’s borders and a series of espionage scandals that have resulted in diplomatic expulsions.

Italy this month said it had created a national cybersecurity agency following warnings by Prime Minister Mario Draghi that Europe needed to
protect itself from Russian “interference”. 

The move came after an Italian navy captain was caught red-handed by police while selling confidential military documents leaked from his computer to a Russian embassy official.


The leaders of nine eastern European nations last month condemned what they termed Russian “aggressive acts” citing operations in Ukraine and “sabotage” allegedly targeted at the Czech Republic.

Several central and eastern European countries have expelled Russian diplomats in solidarity with Prague but Russia has branded accusations of its involvement as “absurd” and responded with tit-for-tat expulsions.

The latest espionage case also comes at a time of highly strained relations between Russia and Germany on a number of fronts including the ongoing detention of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who received treatment in Berlin after a near-fatal poisoning.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has moreover worked to maintain a sanctions regime over Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, the scene of ongoing fighting between pro-Russia separatists and local forces.

And Germany has repeatedly accused Russia of cyberattacks on its soil.

The most high-profile incident blamed on Russian hackers to date was a cyberattack in 2015 that completely paralysed the computer network of the Bundestag lower house of parliament, forcing the entire institution offline for days while it was fixed.

German prosecutors in February filed espionage charges against a German man suspected of having passed the floor plans of parliament to Russian secret services in 2017.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas last week said Germany was expecting to be the target of Russian disinformation in the run-up to its general election in September, calling it “completely unacceptable”.

Russia denies being behind such activities.

Despite international criticism, Berlin has forged ahead with plans to finish the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, set to double natural gas supplies from Russia to Germany.