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Iranian diplomats leave embassy in Albania after expulsion order for orchestrating cyberattack

Prime Minister Edi Rama said on September 7 that there was ‘undeniable evidence’ that the Iranian government was behind the attack

September 08, 2022 03:53 pm | Updated 03:56 pm IST - TIRANA, Albania

Iranian flag is seen at the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, as Albania cuts ties with Iran and orders diplomats to leave over cyberattack, in Tirana, Albania, September 8.

Iranian flag is seen at the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, as Albania cuts ties with Iran and orders diplomats to leave over cyberattack, in Tirana, Albania, September 8. | Photo Credit: Reuters

The last staff of the Iranian Embassy in Tirana left the building on September 8 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 on September 8 at 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 on September 7 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.”

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