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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Is Kenya a Target for Iranian Terrorism?

Filed under: Iran, Iranian Terrorism

Is Kenya a Target for Iranian Terrorism?
Two Iranian terrorists jailed in 2012 are the center of Kenyan government debate (AP Photo/Khalil Senosi, File)

In June 2012, two Iranians were arrested in Kenya for the illegal possession of 15 kilos of sophisticated hexogen RDX explosives.1 There is speculation that Ahmad Abolfathi Mohammad and Sayed Mansour Mousavi were plotting to attack Kenyan, Israeli, British, or American targets. Kenyan security sources said the men were members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Quds Force.2 

During the year prior to their arrest, terror attacks were carried out or attempted against Israeli targets in Thailand, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, A Quds Force plot against the Saudi ambassador in Washington was also thwarted. Iranian suspects and agents were identified.3

Iranian nationals Sayed Mansour Mousavi and Ahmad Abolfathi Mohammad in the Nairobi magistrates court in Nairobi, Kenya
Iranians Ahmad Abolfathi Mohammad (right) and Sayed Mansour Mousavi in a Nairobi court June 27, 2012. They were arrested in Mombasa and jailed for 15 years for illegal possession of 15 kg. of hexogen. (AP Photo/Khalil Senosi, File)

Ahmad Mohammed and Sayed Mousavi were sentenced to 15 years in prison. Iran has been pressuring the Kenyan government for their release.

In November 2016, two Iranians, purportedly lawyers, visited the two terrorists in the Kamiti prison near Nairobi.4 Soon after that, the two, Sayed Nasrollah Ebrahimi and Abdolhosein Gholi Safaee, were arrested after filming the Israeli Embassy in Nairobi. They were charged with collecting information “to use in a terrorist act.”5 The Iranian Foreign Ministry appealed to Kenya’s ambassador in Tehran that the arrest came after the “hostile intervention of a third party [Israel] in a finished case, undoubtedly with the intention of damaging good Iran-Kenya relations.”6 Within days, the Kenyan prosecutors and the Iranian Embassy negotiated dropping of the charges and the immediate deportation of the two Iranian nationals.7

Kenya’s “Tricky Legal, Diplomatic and Security Dilemma”8

Kenya’s Court of Appeals ordered the release of the two Iranians on January 26, 2018, claiming the evidence against them was circumstantial, and they could not be charged with a crime9 However, the government appealed the decision. Earlier this year, the country’s Supreme Court ruled that the head of the police was “not in contempt of court for continuing to hold the suspects.”

Kenya’s Daily Nation reported on July 1, 2018, that according to an Interpol report, “Iranian officials have been attempting to compromise key government employees and the legal system to release Mr. Ahmad Abolfathi Mohammad and Mr. Sayed Mansour Mousavi.”10

In March 2018, three Kenyan members of parliament accused Iran’s ambassador to Kenya, Hadi Farajvand, of trying to influence the release of two men from custody “irregularly.”11 According to one of the parliamentarians, “Farajvand’s actions flouted international treaties and the Kenyan Constitution,” and he called for the ambassador’s expulsion. He continued, “The ambassador is compromising key government and court officials to secure the release of Mohammed and Mousavi.”

What Iran Can’t Secure by Pressure, It Attempts to Buy

Amb. Farajvand’s embassy in Nairobi includes an active “Cultural Council” that promotes “Iran-Kenya bilateral relations.” The council’s website12 reports, “Iranian companies are pursuing investment in agriculture, petroleum, and pharmaceuticals. Iranian companies have indicated they are also interested in setting up a low-cost pharmaceutical plant in Kenya.” According to the ambassador, “Kenya and Iran also look to build their trade portfolio in agro-processing, textiles, leather, management and technical services and materials, oil, gas, mining and constructive materials.”

According to the Cultural Council, “Iran President Hassan Rouhani on several occasion said forging closer ties with Kenya is among the priorities in Iran’s foreign policy agenda, adding that the two sides should seize the opportunity created by the removal of anti-Tehran sanctions to broaden their cooperation. ‘Kenya is among the Islamic Republic’s friends in Africa,’ said Rouhani.”

In a message on August 22, 2018, Iran’s ambassador Farajvand laid out his vision for Iran to pay “more attention [to Africa] on the part of Iranian government.”13

Hassan Rouhani and Justin Muturi
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (R) receives Justin Muturi, the speaker of Kenya’s National Assembly, in Tehran, September 25, 2016. (Photo by IRNA)

Farajvand explained that “bilateral trade between Tehran and Nairobi was $39 million two years ago. The volume has reached $167 million now, indicating a 365 percent increase.”  The Iranian ambassador predicted that the “bilateral trade between the two countries could reach $500 million as there is an appropriate ground for that goal.”14


The restoration of international sanctions against Iran, the high cost of Iran’s military intervention in the Middle East, and the wide-scale domestic protests inside Iran have not deterred the Islamic regime from continuing its imperialist designs around the globe.

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