Foxtrot, Rumba and Iran: Who Are The Criminal Gangs Hired By The IRGC?

In May, news reports emerged linking notorious the Swedish criminal gangs Foxtrot Network and Rumba Gang to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The affiliation between Foxtrot, Rumba and Iran was revealed by Swedish intelligence agency SAPO, the Justice Ministry of Sweden, and other law enforcement agencies in Sweden. The primary source for these links was the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, which has also publicly announced the links between the criminal gang network and the Iranian regime. Swedish parliamentarians, such as Alireza Akhondi of the Centre Party, stated that he was not surprised that the link was established, claiming that there was ‘100 percent a collaboration’ between Iran and these criminal gangs.

The reveal of these links was made amidst the backdrop of increasing tensions in Europe over the events of October 7,2023. Since the Hamas-instigated war in the Middle East began, there has been a deplorable rise in the number of antisemitic attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets in Europe. The attacks in Western Europe against the Israeli embassies in Sweden and Belgium are among the most recent examples of the direct targeting of Israeli institutions abroad. These attacks took place in January and May 2024, and intelligence agencies in Sweden and Israel have asserted that Sweden-based criminal gangs Foxtrot, and its offshoot Rumba, were directly responsible for these attacks. Media reports in various countries across Europe have relayed these assertions, and this marks the first time that the names of criminal gang recruits and their kingpins have been publicly named. The individuals are Rawa Majid and Ismail Abdo, leaders of the Foxtrot and Rumba gangs respectively. They are also known by aliases—Rawa Majid is often referred to as ‘Kurdish Fox’, and Ismail Abdo as ‘the Strawberry.’

Rawa Majid and Ismail Abdo once made up the leadership of the Foxtrot Network, with Abdo acting as Majid’s deputy until they fell out. It is unclear when exactly the falling out took place, but the split has been violently acrimonious. In 2023, Ismail Abdo’s mother was murdered in Uppsala, Sweden, and the murder is thought to have been ordered by Majid. Also in 2023, Abdo was alleged to have ordered the killing of one of Majid’s closest associates in Turkey. These exchanges have become characteristic of the violent animosity that typifies the rivalry between Majid and Abdo. Both Majid and Abdo have fled Sweden, with the former fleeing to Iran in 2023 after a tenure in Turkey. Abdo also fled to Turkey, where he reportedly still remains. It is widely suspected that Majid fled to Turkey in part to acquire Turkish citizenship, to make him immune to facing charges abroad, as Turkey does not extradite its citizens to face criminal charges in foreign countries.

This tactic has also been employed by other known perpetrators of terror plots in Europe, such as Ramin Yektaparast, the German-Iranian responsible for orchestrating terror plots at the behest of the IRGC against Jewish targets in Germany in November 2022. Yektaparast sought refuge in Iran in order to avoid facing murder charges in Germany, where he was the prime suspect in the murder of a gang member in 2014. In 2021, the year he fled Germany, he posted on Instagram about how German authorities could not arrest him as there isn’t an extradition treaty between Berlin and Tehran. The case of Yektaparast mirrors those of Majid and Abdo in that he too was involved in criminal gang-related activities, as the founder of the Hells Angels chapter in the city of Monchengladbach. Yektaparast, however, was met with a grim fate when it was alleged earlier this year that he was terminated by the Mossad in Tehran. There is a lesson for Majid and Abdo in Yektaparast’s story: if the Mossad deems you a great enough threat, and if they seek to nullify that threat, they are very adept at finding their targets and taking them out.

The Foxtrot Network is thought to have been founded in the late 2010s, and they are known for drug trafficking and assassination hires. The Foxtrot Network has been linked to several other people suspected of being involved in organized crime. One of them was Haydar Abdulla, among Rawa Majid’s closest associates. He was charged in April 2022 for aggravated narcotics offences, and was sentenced to nine years and six months in prison. Another notable individual believed to be linked to the Foxtrot Network is a man arrested in 2021 in connection with a large-scale drug trade. This individual is said to have been involved in importing large quantities of narcotics from the Netherlands to Sweden and has links to other criminal networks in Europe. Indeed, the network’s breadth and reach make it a fitting collaborator for the IRGC in their targeting of Israeli interests and Jews around Europe.

According to a Mossad official, ‘Iran operates many criminal organisations in Sweden and Europe, while taking advantage of each and sometimes the rivalry between them.’ In the case of Foxtrot and Rumba, the rivalry appears to have been expertly harnessed by the Iranian regime, and to deviously great effect. What they are receiving in exchange is difficult to confirm at this stage. However, Iran has habitually offered cash compensation to criminals and assassins in other high-profile instances, such as the bomb plot targeting Iranian dissidents in France in 2018, the attempted targeted killings of Israelis and Jews in Greece in 2023, and Cyprus in 2021 and 2023. Cover from international arrests and charges is also an incentive offered by the Iranian regime. In the case of Majid, reports indicate that he was personally recruited by the IRGC, after he fled to Iran in September 2023. This suggests that he is receiving protection.

The shooting of the Israeli embassy in Stockholm, on May 17, 2024, displays many of the methods that both the Foxtrot Network and the Rumba Gang employ in their attacks. Most notably, the use of youths to execute their attacks is a common feature in their modus operandi. According to criminologist Manne Gerell, criminal gangs recruit youths because their handlers do not think that they will be convicted. At the scene and around the vicinity of the Israeli embassy in Stockholm on May 17, three adolescent males were arrested, one of whom was only fourteen. They were reportedly armed with knives and firearms. This also reflects a worrying trend visible across Europe in recent months; increasingly numbering among Islamist extremists are radicalised youths, and these perpetrators are younger and more dangerous than they’ve ever been.

Youths are impressionable, and easily drawn into the likes of Foxtrot and Rumba, where they feel they can gain status and make money by being involved in gang activities. While Iran is exploiting the rivalry between gangs to fuel the fervour with which they execute their attacks, the gangs are exploiting the reckless naivete of wayward teens. The only positive in this very bleak picture is that these attacks are typically unsuccessfully executed. The three attacks linked to Foxtrot and Rumba ultimately failed to cause any casualties.

Out of a total of forty adolescents who have been arrested for involvement in Islamist terrorist activities across seventeen Western European countries since October 7, 2023, none of their terror attacks have been successful at inflicting casualties, with the exception of one incident that took place in Zurich, Switzerland, in early March, 2024. The incident involved the stabbing of an Orthodox Jewish man at the hands of a radicalised youth. Nevertheless, the inefficacy with which these attacks have been executed should hardly be perceived as a silver lining. It is potentially only a matter of time before Islamist terror groups, their criminal gang collaborators and the youths they enlist, finetune their methods and maximise the devastation they intend to inflict.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.

About the Author
Alex Alfirraz Scheers holds a diploma in Politics and History from the Open University, a bachelor's degree in War Studies and History from King's College London, and a master's degree in National Security Studies from King's College London. He has worked as a research assistant at the Henry Jackson Society, a defence and foreign policy think tank based in London, and is currently a research assistant at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization, also based in London. His research areas of interest include the international politics of weapons of mass destruction, and Islamist extremism.