France freezes Iranian assets over Paris bomb plot said thwarted by Mossad

Ministers issue joint statement announcing sanctions, decrying ‘extremely serious’ scheme to attack Iranian opposition rally in Villepinte neighborhood

Illustrative: French police officers stand guard outside the Iranian embassy in Paris Tuesday, May 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Jacques Brinon)
Illustrative: French police officers stand guard outside the Iranian embassy in Paris Tuesday, May 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Jacques Brinon)

France said Tuesday that it had frozen assets belonging to Iran’s intelligence services and two Iranians in response to an alleged plot to bomb a meeting of Iranian opposition supporters near Paris last June.

The plot was reportedly thwarted by Israel’s Mossad spy agency.

“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 decree announcing the asset freezes on Iran’s ministry of security and intelligence and on two Iranian men was published in the government gazette. It identified one of the men as Assadollah Asadi, a 47-year-old Iranian diplomat who was arrested over the bomb plot last month and 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.

The cell, headed by the Iranian diplomat at the Austrian embassy in Vienna, also consisted of  two Belgian nationals and an alleged accomplice in France. They planned to bomb a June 30 conference organized by an Iranian dissident group, the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK).

About 25,000 people attended the rally in the Paris suburb of Villepinte.

People hold pictures of relatives killed by the Iranian regime during the “Free Iran 2018 – the Alternative” event on June 30, 2018, in Villepinte, north of Paris. Six people were arrested in Belgium, Germany and France for an alleged plot to attack the rally, including an Iranian diplomat and his wife. (AFP Photo/Zakaria Abdelkafi)

The Mossad, in conjunction with its counterparts from Belgium, France, and Germany, led a hunt that crossed several European borders and prevented the bombing, Hadashot TV news reported last month, without giving sources.

The operation included tracking the suspects and eavesdropping on them, the report said.

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 countermeasures 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 program amid major tensions in the Middle East.

The MEK, formed in the 1960s to overthrow the shah of Iran, fought the rise of the mullahs in Tehran following the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

It earned itself a listing as a “terrorist organization” by the US State Department in 1997 and was only removed from terror watchlists by the European Union in 2008 and by Washington in 2012.

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.

This picture taken on October 2, 2018 shows an Israeli flag coloured foot mat at a door outside the Zahra Centre, the headquarters of a a Shiite Islamic association in Grande Synthe, northern France, after it was raided by 200 police men as well as the homes of its leaders who are suspected of supporting “terrorist organisations.” (AFP /PHILIPPE HUGUEN)

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 the Lebanese terror  group Hezbollah and 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 favor 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.”

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