Albania has ordered Iranian officials out of the country and severed diplomatic relations with Tehran following an investigation into a cyberattack that it concluded was Iranian “state aggression” when it hit the Adriatic coast nation in July.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Edi Rama announced the expulsion of all Iranian diplomats and embassy staff and gave them 24 hours to leave.
Rama’s official website said there was “irrefutable” evidence that Tehran had backed “the act of a serious cyberattack against the digital infrastructure of the government of the Republic of Albania.”
“The government has decided, with immediate effect, to end diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Rama said in a video statement on his official website.
Rama said Tirana had already informed Iran of its decision in a diplomatic note to the Iranian embassy.
It also said it had shared its findings with fellow NATO members.
It said its “extreme measure” was “not at all desired but completely forced…[and] in full proportion to the seriousness and dangerousness of the cyberattack, which threatened to paralyze public services, delete systems, and steal state data, steal electronic communications within the government system, and fuel insecurity and chaos in the country.”
The U.S. condemned the cyberattack. “The United States will take further action to hold Iran accountable for actions that threaten the security of a U.S. ally and set a troubling precedent for cyberspace,” said White House National Security spokesperson Adrienne Watson.
There was no immediate response from Iran to the accusations and cutoff.
Tirana and Tehran’s relations dramatically worsened after Albanian authorities agreed at the request of the United States in 2013 to accept around 3,000 members of an exiled group known as the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK), whom Iranian officials regard as terrorists.
A team of U.S. cyber experts from the FBI were recently sent to neighboring Montenegro over what officials of that Balkan NATO member called a massive and coordinated cyberattack on its government and services.
A source from Montenegro’s National Security Agency (ANB) initially suggested Russian security services were suspected, although a Cuban group later claimed it was behind the attack.
VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report. Some information was provided by Reuters.