The Australian: National security agents are closely monitoring Iranians at Australian universities, fearing some of the students are doubling as spies and reporting to Tehran. The Australian
By Richard Kerbaj
NATIONAL security agents are closely monitoring Iranians at Australian universities, fearing some of the students are doubling as spies and reporting to Tehran.
State and federal security authorities are also keeping a close eye on Iranian students in Australia who are interested in becoming residents or citizens, amid growing suspicions that some may be intent on establishing an espionage foothold.
It is understood their concerns about Iranian students were sparked by calls to the National Security Hotline and information from local Persian leaders.
Some of the students suspected of gathering information on the communities in Sydney and Melbourne are believed to be under electronic surveillance.
The number of Iranian students studying in Australia has multiplied almost five-fold in the past five years. Most study engineering and surveying.
Attorney-General Philip Ruddock told The Australian that threats to Australia were investigated by the relevant national security authorities.
Security sources told The Australian they believed some of the students were being used to spy on members of the local community who were hostile towards the regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Australia’s Iranian community of 25,000 is largely made up of Shia Muslim migrants who left their homeland after 1979 to escape the Islamic revolution.
Security sources said the Iranian Government was intent on monitoring them, fearing it was being undermined by their ideological and financial support of groups opposed to Tehran’s regime.
Persian Cultural Foundation of Australia president Homer Abramian accused the Iranian regime of sending its agents to Australia under the guise of students, in some instances, and in other cases paying students to report back on local community affairs.
In 2005, former Chinese diplomat Chen Yonglin, who worked at the Chinese consulate in Sydney, revealed that Beijing had 1000 intelligence operatives working in Australia. A former member of the Chinese intelligence network, Hoa Fengjun, also said China had agents monitoring Australia’s business groups, foreign policies and local community members opposed to the communist regime.
“The majority of the students are very nice people and from very good families … but we know that some of them are spies and they are not here just for education,” Mr Abramian said.
Iranian youth leader Nosrat Hosseini said she believed some international Iranian students in Melbourne were spying on local community members opposed to the Tehran Government.
The Melbourne-based secretary of the Iranian Womens Association said the students often used the Faulkner Mosque, a Shia place of worship in Melbourne’s north, as an entry point to community affairs and functions.
She said the students were often interested in finding out information about the general sentiment held by the local community towards the Iranian regime.
“They also want to see whether there are anti-Iranian Government campaigns that people are involved in and about how much they know about human rights violations in Iran,” Ms Hosseini said.
Mr Abramian said some Australians of Iranian heritage – who were predominantly hostile to Tehran’s regime – also feared expressing their opposition to the Islamic republic during community gatherings.
There are 1421 Iranian students studying in Australian universities and other educational institutions this year, up from 307 in 2002, according to the Department of Education.
Most are full-fee-paying students, while a few are in Australia on Iranian Government-sponsored scholarships.