(Update: German prosecutors on Wednesday ordered that Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi be remanded in custody on charges of espionage and conspiracy to murder under German law. The charges did “not preclude” his extradition to Belgium, they said.)
(CNSNews.com) – The United States believes the Iranian regime is responsible for a foiled plot to bomb an opposition group’s rally in Paris late last month, and is working closely with authorities in three European countries to investigate, according to a senior State Department official.
“If Iran can plot bomb attacks in Paris, they can plot attacks anywhere in the world, and we urge all nations to be vigilant about Iran using embassies as diplomatic cover to plot terrorist attacks,” the official said.
Speaking on background to reporters flying with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo from Abu Dhabi to Brussels, the official dismissed as “ludicrous” the regime’s claim that the exiled opposition group, National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)/People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran (MEK), was behind the plan to bomb its own event.
“This is only the most recent example of Iran using diplomatic cover to plot terrorism,” the official said. The U.S. was “urging all nations to carefully examine diplomats in Iranian embassies to ensure their countries’ own security.”
An Iranian diplomat accredited to the country’s embassy in Vienna, Assadollah Assadi, is one of four people in custody in three European countries in connection with an alleged plot to bomb the June 30 “Free Iran” rally, which drew some 25,000 attendees.
The regime has denied the claims, and is demanding that Assadi be freed from detention in Germany. It said the incident was designed to undermine its diplomatic initiatives in Europe, amid attempts to salvage the nuclear deal following the U.S. withdrawal.
“We do not believe Iran’s ludicrous claim that this is a false flag,” the State Department official said.
Apart from Assadi, an Iranian-Belgian couple are in detention in Belgium, and another Belgian of Iranian origin, described by investigators as a “suspected accomplice,” is in custody in France.
The investigation is being led by Belgium, where a counter-terrorism investigating judge in Antwerp has issued a European arrest warrant (EAW) for Assadi in Germany and for the man being held in France.
An EAW simplifies the process of surrendering for trial criminal suspects between E.U. member states, replacing often slow-moving extradition procedures.
A spokesman for the federal prosecutor’s office in Brussels confirmed Tuesday that the couple – who were apprehended in Belgium on the day of the NCRI/MEK rally, in possession of explosives and a detonation mechanism – will according to the judge’s ruling “stay in preventive detention for another month.”
A statement provided by the federal justice department said a plot to bomb the event was “foiled,” thanks to intelligence obtained by Belgium’s State Security Service, and with the cooperation of Belgian police, the military’s explosive ordnance disposal unit, the French DGSI intelligence service, and judicial authorities in Germany.
Iran applying pressure
Citing information from its sources inside the regime, the NCRI/MEK has expressed concern that Iran is applying intense pressure on Germany and Austria – “resorting to threats [and] blackmail and offering concessions” – to release Assadi and expedite his return to Iran.
According to information provided by an NCRI official on Tuesday, the MEK sources say Iran's foreign ministry assesses that Austria and Germany are inclined to resolve the matter quietly, but that Belgium and the Netherlands are pushing for the diplomat to be handed over to Belgium.
In Brussels, Pompeo will be joining President Trump at the NATO summit and also holding meetings with European officials and others.
Asked Tuesday night whether he would urge the Germans and Austrians he meets with there to resist any Iranian pressure in this matter, a State Department spokesperson replied, “We are not going to get ahead of the Secretary’s diplomatic conversations.”
But the official accompanying Pompeo said the U.S. was taking the matter “very seriously” and was “working very closely with the Belgians and the Austrians and the Germans to get to the bottom of this plot.”
The official confirmed that the U.S. does believe Iran was responsible for the plot, while declining to speculate whether the target of the bomb was the NCRI/MEK or American dignitaries who took part in its rally.
As reported earlier, among the American guests were two close political allies of the president, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Others included former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, former FBI Director Louis Freeh, former Homeland Security Advisor Frances Townsend and former U.S. Army chief of staff Gen. George Casey.
Guests from other countries included the former Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, and former French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner.
The NCRI/MEK says it wants to replace the clerical regime in Tehran with a democratic republic. It was outlawed as a terrorist group by the European Union until delisted in 2009, and was designated by the U.S. government as a foreign terrorist organization until 2012.
Iranians using diplomatic cover were blamed for the assassination in Vienna 29 years ago of an dissident Iranian Kurdish leader.
In the 1990s, the E.U. restricted the granting of visas to Iranian intelligence personnel after a German court found that the 1992 assassination of four Iranian Kurdish dissidents in a Berlin restaurant had been ordered by the regime.
The terror activities went beyond Europe. An investigation into the deadliest terrorist attack in Argentina’s history, the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center, named among wanted suspects Iran’s ambassador and two officials based at the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires. They and other prominent Iranians suspected of involvement remain at large.