A Chechen-born man has been found guilty of spying on a London-based dissident Iranian TV station to help terror plotters.
Magomed-Husejn Dovtaev, 31, was accused of conducting surveillance on the west London headquarters of Iran International as part of a plan by others to carry out a terror attack.
He was found guilty of one charge of attempting to collect information useful for terrorism.
Asked why he had taken an interest in the building and its surroundings, he told the Old Bailey he “quite simply liked it” and was “in wonder at the architecture”.
Prosecutors said Dovtaev, an Austrian citizen, originally from Chechnya, covertly filmed material on his phone in order to “identify vulnerabilities” in the media company’s security which could be exploited by others.
Prosecutor Nicholas De La Poer KC said the Persian-language TV channel and its employees had become targets for violent reprisals over its reporting of protests in Iran, sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in 2022 following her detention by the country’s morality police.
Dovtaev did not react in the dock when the unanimous verdict was delivered.
He has been remanded into custody and will be sentenced on Friday.
Iran has declared the TV station to be a terrorist organisation.
Image: Dovtaev denied the charge against him Dovtaev denied the charge, telling the court he was “set up” by an unknown contact.
He told the jury he didn’t know why he had been sent to Chiswick Business Park – then home to Iran International’s headquarters – and that he felt he had been tricked by his contact, whose identity he did not know.
Giving evidence in his defence, Dovtaev admitted that he had taken a video on his phone in the middle of the business park.
He told the court: “You have got these buildings and in the middle of it you have got the lake and I was in wonder of such architecture, I quite simply liked it.”
Prosecutors said they were not suggesting that Dovtaev himself aimed to carry out or participate in an attack on the building or its staff.
Image: Iran International TV west London studio. Pic: Iran International TV The court heard Dovtaev arrived at Gatwick from Vienna on 11 February this year in order to carry out “hostile reconnaissance”.
He travelled directly to the headquarters where he was observed walking “nonchalantly” past the building.
Subsequent examination of his phone suggested that he was recording the security arrangements as he walked by.
He was approached by security who realised he was speaking on his Apple Airpod earphones and insulting them in Russian.
They directed him to a coffee shop where armed police arrested him as he sat at a table.
Image: Dovtaev was directed to a coffee shop
Image: Then he was arrested by counter-terrorism police officers His visit was said to be the most recent in a series of at least three such visits by “others unknown”, who had also taken videos, beginning in the summer of 2022.
Counter-terrorism police ‘very alive’ to threat
Met commander Dominic Murphy said counter-terrorism police were “very alive” to the threat posed by Iran to potential targets on British soil.
The head of the Met’s SO15 Counter-terrorism Command said: “For a considerable amount of time, we’ve been worried about threats projected into the UK from Iran.
“At this time, we don’t know why Dovtaev was conducting this activity except to say that we believe very strongly that it was for terrorism.”
He confirmed the TV station was still broadcasting from London but in a different location.
Fifteen plots “generated from Iran” against individuals or organisations in the UK have been disrupted and police remained alive to the threat from the hostile state, he said.