France freezes assets of Iran’s intelligence ministry over alleged MEK bomb plot

France froze the assets of two suspected Iranian intelligence operatives on Tuesday in retaliation for an alleged bomb plot uncovered near Paris in June, in a move that could cause diplomatic tensions with Tehran.

The French government announced it had frozen assets belonging to two Iranians and Iran’s ministry of security and intelligence following the alleged plot to bomb the Iranian opposition group People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (Mojahedin-e Khalq, MEK) in the Paris suburb of Villepinte in June.

The individuals were identified as Assadollah Asadi and Saeid Hashemi Moghadam, Reuters reported the government as saying.

“This extremely serious act envisaged on our territory could not go without a response,” France’s interior, foreign and economy ministers said in a rare joint statement.

“In taking this decision, France underlines its determination to fight against terrorism in all its forms, particularly on its own territory,” they added.

The foiled attack in June was to have targeted a meeting of thousands of Iranian opposition supporters which was also attended by leading U.S. figures, including close allies of President Donald Trump.

Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph Giuliani, spoke at the June rally, which 32 other former U.S. officials and military leaders attended. Former speakers for the MEK include John Bolton, now the U.S. National Security Advisor.

Six people were arrested in connection with the plot in coordinated raids by European police forces, including Asadi, an Iranian diplomat who is set to be extradited from Germany to Belgium for prosecution.

Asadi was targeted by France for the six-month asset freeze on Tuesday along with another man named as Saeid Hashemi Moghadam.

Iran has denied any involvement in the alleged bomb plot and said the MEK had orchestrated the plot to discredit Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as he embarked on a tour of Europe.

The MEK was formed in 1965 to overthrow the Shah of Iran and it continues to organize opposition to the current leaders of the Islamic republic who took power following the 1979 revolution. Opponents of the MEK say the group has little support in Iran. The group was listed as a terrorist organization in the European Union until 2009 and in the United States until 2012.

MEK’s leader Maryam Rajavi lives in France, and many of its other members live in a large compound in Albania where they were relocated by the United States from a camp in Iraq.

The counter measures by France could have major diplomatic repercussions at a time when France is working to keep Iran in the 2015 accord to limit its nuclear programme amid major tensions in the Middle East.

French President Emmanuel Macron had vowed to visit Tehran early in his term as president, but major differences between the countries on issues such as the wars in Syria and Yemen, as well as the bomb plot, have led to tensions.

Raids on Islamic center

Also Tuesday, around 200 police launched a dawn anti-terror raid on one of the biggest Shiite Muslim centers in France, the Zahra Centre France, as well as the homes of its directors near the port city of Dunkirk.

A total of 11 people were questioned and three were arrested, security sources told AFP, including for the illegal possession of firearms.

The Zahra Centre France was founded in 2009 by Yahia Gouasmi, who has spoken in support of Lebanese Islamist group Hezbollah and the Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Gouasmi is also the founder of the Anti-Zionist Party in France and is an associate of controversial comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, a convicted anti-Semite.

The raids on Tuesday were staged as part of the “prevention of terrorism” procedures, regional authorities said in a statement.

Police have been closely following the activities of the Zahra Centre “because of the strong support by its leaders for several terrorist organizations and in favour of movements backing ideas that are contrary to the values” of France, a statement from local authorities said.

On its website, the association says its purpose since its foundation in 2009 has been “to make known the message of Islam through the eyes of the Prophet and his family.”

With reporting from AFP

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