The Iranian government denied on Wednesday evening any involvement in a cyberattack against the Albanian government, which led to Prime Minister Edi Rama giving diplomats at the embassy in Tirana 24 hours to leave the country.
Rama announced that all diplomatic ties would be severed with Iran due to their involvement in the 15 July cyber-attack, which brought all government websites and the e-Albania portal down. But the spokesperson of the Iranian Foreign Minister, Nasser Ka’nani, rejected the claims and called them baseless.
“As one of the countries that have been subject to cyber attacks on its critical infrastructure, the Islamic Republic of Iran opposes and condemns any use of cyberspace as a means to attack the infrastructure of other countries,” the Iranian spokesman said.
He added that Albania had been influenced by third parties who support terrorism, referring to the US and Israel.
Meanwhile, an increased police presence was noted outside the embassy in central Tirana as the countdown to when the diplomats must leave Albania continued. Exit was on the scene and saw smoke rising from the premises suggesting that the burning of documents was underway before departure.
Opposition Democratic Party MP Aldo Bumci called for more support and protection from NATO. “Small countries cannot withstand attacks; we are protected by NATO.”
He also noted that if Albania had not sheltered MEK, it would not have been attacked.
Albania is home to the MEK group (People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran), who were transferred to Albania from an Iraqi refugee camp in 2016.
The group was founded in 1965 to oppose the US-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, engaging in armed conflict during the 1970s. Their activities continued for decades until they forged an alliance with Iraq and sided with them during the Iraq-Iran war.
MEK was previously designated as a terrorist organisation by the EU, Canada, US and Japan, but this was repealed. They were given protection in 2004 by the US government under the Geneva Convention.
They aim to overthrow the Iranian government, and some 1000 members currently live in a closed, heavily guarded compound 40km outside of Tirana.
In 2018, the Albanian government expelled two Iranian diplomats, including the ambassador, for “damaging national security” and allegedly being involved in planning an attack on an Israel-Albania football match.
The cyberattack started on 15 July, bringing all government websites and the e-Albania portal offline. It also saw Rama’s emails hacked and swathes of correspondence and documents leaked online. The government brought in experts from the FBI, NATO, and a US security company to help them get their systems back online.
After the cyber attack, the e-Albania government portal restored 1118 of the 1225 electronic services it offers citizens.
The White House issued a statement condemning the attack and expressing support for Albania.
“The United States will take further action to hold Iran accountable for actions that threaten the security of a US ally and set a troubling precedent for cyberspace,” it notes.