Diplomat arrested over alleged attack plot on Iranian group in France

Diplomat arrested over alleged attack plot on Iranian group in France ...
theguardian.com 03/07/2018 Military

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Four people held for allegedly plotting bombing of MEK rally attended by Rudy Giuliani
French authorities said the suspected attack plot was targeting a rally near Paris attended by US politicians. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty

* * * Saeed Kamali Dehghan and Jennifer Rankin in Brussels
Mon 2 Jul 2018 15.22 BST
An Iranian diplomat is among four people who have been arrested in connection with what authorities said was a foiled bombing attack targeting a rally organised by an Iranian opposition group in France at the weekend.
Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), a fringe organisation loathed by Iran’s establishment, accused leaders in Tehran of planning the suspected attack near Paris on Saturday, where an event featuring high-profile US politicians, including Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump’s attorney, was taking place.
On Monday, Belgian authorities said an unnamed Iranian diplomat, who works for Tehran’s mission to Austria, was arrested in Germany, while a married couple – Belgian citizens of Iranian heritage – were detained with “attempt at terrorist murder and preparing a terrorist crime” against the MEK. A fourth suspect was arrested in France.
The arrests come ahead of a rare visit to Europe by the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, who is scrambling to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal after Trump said the US would not honour it.
Rouhani arrived in Zurich on Monday and is expected to travel to Austria on Wednesday in an attempt to save the agreement.
A statement by the secretariat of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an umbrella group of the MEK, said: “The conspiracy of the terrorist dictatorship ruling Iran to attack the grand gathering of the Iranian resistance in Villepinte, Paris, was foiled.
“The mullahs’ regime’s terrorists in Belgium, helped by the regime’s diplomat terrorists, had designed for the attack.”
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, rejected claims of Iran’s involvement and described the accusations as a “sinister false flag ploy”. A visit by Rouhani to Austria in 2016 was cancelled after Iran objected to an MEK rally planned to coincide with his visit.
“How convenient: just as we embark on a presidential visit to Europe, an alleged Iranian operation and its ‘plotters’ arrested. Iran unequivocally condemns all violence and terror anywhere, and is ready to work with all concerned to uncover what is a sinister false flag ploy,” Zarif tweeted.
In May, Iran vehemently denied accusations by Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, that its elite Revolutionary Guards carried out “assassination operations in the heart of Europe”.
The Iranian couple were in a Mercedes car when they were stopped by special forces and arrested on Saturday in Woluwe-Saint-Pierre, which is close to EU institutions in Brussels. According to Belgian media, police found 500 grams of TATP explosive and a detonator hidden in a toiletries bag.
Belgium’s federal prosecutor, which never publishes the surnames of suspects, announced in a statement that Amir S, 38, and his wife, Nasimeh N, 33, had been charged with attempted terrorist murder and preparing an act of terrorism.
Belgium’s interior minister, Jan Jambon, said there had been no threat to the country and praised the police, security and judicial services for their “rapid and effective intervention”. The threat level in Belgium, which was reduced earlier this year, remains unchanged, he added.
Tehran considers the MEK as a terrorist organisation – a view shared by the US and the EU until not long ago. The US delisted it in 2012, but the MEK’s animosity with Iran’s rulers has earned it powerful allies in the west, most particularly among Trump associates such as John Bolton, who is the group’s most powerful advocate.
The MEK, a cult-like fringe exiled Iranian opposition group, was once a sworn enemy of the United States. It was responsible for the killing of six Americans in Iran during the 1970s, and enthusiastically cheered the post-revolution seizure of the US embassy in Tehran, when students took 52 American diplomats hostage for 444 days in 1981.
Believed to have between 5,000 and 13,000 members, the MEK was established in the 1960s to express a mixture of Marxism and Islamism. It launched bombing campaigns against the Shah, which continued after the 1979 Islamic revolution, against the Islamic Republic.
In 1981, in a series of attacks, it killed 74 senior officials, including 27 MPs. Later that year, the group’s bombings killed Iran’s president and prime minister.
During the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, the MEK, by then sheltered in camps in Iraq, fought against Tehran alongside the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. The US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a turning point for the group, which sought to reinvent itself as a democratic force.
Today, it has little visible support inside the country. The MEK portrays itself as a democratic political institution, although its internal structure is anything but.
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