(CNSNews.com) – Iran’s foreign ministry is condemning the Netherlands for expelling two Iranian diplomats, the latest in a series of developments evidently tied to allegations of Iranian terror activity in Europe.
The Dutch government has given no explanation for the expulsions, but the murders of two Iranians in the Netherlands – one last November and the other back in 2015 – have given rise to suspicions that the regime in Tehran may once again be assassinating enemies in Europe.
News that the diplomats had been expelled broke on Friday when confirmed by the Dutch intelligence service, AIVD, although the actual expulsions apparently took place sometime earlier.
The development comes at a sensitive time for Iran-European relations, as the regime scrambles to preserve the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal following President Trump’s withdrawal earlier this year, and as a reimposition of U.S. sanctions looms.
Adding to the tensions, Iran is already engaged in a diplomatic tussle over an alleged plot to bomb a rally in Paris late last month of the exiled National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)/People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran (MEK).
That incident potentially impacts on the regime’s relations with four separate European governments – France, Austria, Belgium and Germany.
Condemning the expulsion of the two unnamed diplomats, the Iranian foreign ministry summoned the Dutch ambassador to deliver a formal protest.
Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassem called the move “an unfriendly decision that will not be constructive for bilateral relations” and said Tehran did not rule out retaliatory measures.
Although the Dutch government has not explained publicly the reasons for the expulsion, Ghassem’s next words – as cited in a foreign ministry statement – appeared to point to the reasons discussed in private, particularly his references to Interpol and to the MEK:
--“The Netherlands is expected to remain committed to their international pledges to arrest and put on trial the terrorist elements for whom the Interpol has issued [a] Red Notice.”
--“The Netherlands’ government should explain about its move to shelter the criminal and terrorist members of the notorious anti-Iran terrorist group [the MEK], which has the blood of the Iranian people on their hands.”
The two Iranians murdered in the Netherlands – in strikingly similar circumstances – were Ahmad Mola Nissi, shot dead in November 2017 in The Hague, and Mohammad-Reza Kolahi Samadi, gunned down in the city of Almere in December 2015.
Nissi was the leader of an outlawed group fighting to establish a separate state in Khuzestan province, an oil-rich region bordering Iraq, for Iran’s small ethnic Arab minority. Iran had sought Interpol’s help to secure his arrest.
Samadi, who was living under the name Ali Motamed, was an MEK member wanted by the regime for the deadly 1981 bombing of the Islamic Republic Party headquarters in Tehran. Among the dead was the chief justice, regarded as number two to then-supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
It was only in May this year, when two men went on trial accused of carrying out the hit on “Ali Motamed,” that it emerged in court that the man living under an assumed identity was one of Iran’s most wanted fugitives. That prompted calls for authorities to investigate whether Iran had ordered the assassination.
‘Covert assassination operations in the heart of Europe’
The week of the two suspects’ arraignment, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raised eyebrows when during an Iran policy speech he said, “Today, the Iranian Quds Force conducts covert assassination operations in the heart of Europe.”
Pompeo did not elaborate but when asked about the comment afterwards, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert replied, “He has information and access to information that I do not … the secretary has assured me that there is a basis for that point in his speech, and he stands firmly behind that.”
Late last week the State Department posted online information about terror activity, including assassinations, attacks and foiled attacks in Europe, attributed to Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Meanwhile, European investigators are continuing to probe an alleged plot to bomb the NCRI/MEK’s “Free Iran” rally near Paris on June 30, an event whose approximately 25,000 attendees included some high-profile former U.S. officials including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
Belgium has in its custody an Iranian-Belgian couple suspected of planning to bomb the rally, and Germany has under arrest an Iranian diplomat accredited to Iran’s embassy in Vienna, Austria, who the Belgian investigators described as a “contact person” involved in the bomb plot. A “suspected accomplice” is under arrest in France.
The diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, was arrested in Bavaria after allegedly handing over explosives to the Iranian-Belgian couple at a rendezvous in Luxembourg, which lies between Belgium and Germany.
The two parties then drove off in different directions, before being apprehended and arrested in Belgium and Germany respectively. Hidden in the couple’s Mercedes, police found 500 grams of TATP and an ignition device, according to Belgium’s State Security Service.
The Iranian regime has demanded Assadi’s release, and has blamed the episode – which came on the eve of a visit to Switzerland and Austria by President Hassan Rouhani – on attempts by its enemies to undermine its efforts to improve relations with Europe and salvage the JCPOA.
Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called the incident a “false flag ploy,” and other officials charged that the U.S. and Israel were seeking to damage ties between Iran and Europe.
A previous string of killings in Europe, including the 1992 assassination of four Iranian Kurdish dissidents in a Berlin restaurant called the Mykonos, strained Iranian-European ties. After a German court ruled the Mykonos shootings had been ordered by the regime the E.U. curtailed the granting of visas to Iranian intelligence personnel and restricted ministerial visits to Iran.