France has accused Iran’s ministry of intelligence of plotting a bomb attack on an exiled opposition group’s rally outside the capital, Paris, in June.
A joint statement by France’s interior, economy and foreign ministers said the freezing of assets belonging to Tehran’s intelligence services and two Iranian nationals on Tuesday was linked to the alleged attempt to bomb the People’s Mujahideen of Iran (MEK) rally.
“An attempted attack was thwarted,” the statement said. “This act of an extreme gravity planned on our territory [which] cannot go without a response.”
The French ministers called the six-month freeze on the assets “preventive, targeted and proportionate”.
The hardening of relations between Paris and Tehran could have far-reaching consequences for Iran as President Hassan Rouhani’s government looks to European capitals to salvage a 2015 nuclear deal after the US pulled out and reimposed tough sanctions on the country.
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi told AFP news agency that Tehran has rejected the French accusation “completely and forcefully”, but said the door for discussion was open.
He also told the state news agency, IRNA, that the incident was a plot “designed by those who want to damage Iran’s long-established relations with France and Europe”.
One of the two Iranians targeted in the freeze of the Intelligence Ministry section was Assadollah Asadi, a Vienna-based Iranian diplomat who is a suspect in the alleged attack on MEK’s rally.
Assadi was arrested in July near the German city of Aschaffenburg on a European warrant after a couple with Iranian roots was stopped in Belgium and authorities reported finding powerful explosives in their car.
A German court on Monday approved the diplomat’s extradition to Belgium.
The other Iranian identified by the French ministries was Saeid Hashemi Moghadam. His alleged role in the alleged attack plot was not immediately clear.
“We deny the accusations and forcefully condemn the Iranian diplomat’s arrest, and call for his immediate release,” a statement from the Iranian foreign ministry said on Tuesday.
US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the French action was evidence that “there’s probably no one who has felt terrorism stemming from Iran perhaps more than – well, the Syrians – that has felt it more than some Europeans”.
France taking strong action against failed Iranian terrorist plot in Paris—Tehran needs to know this outrageous behavior will not be tolerated https://t.co/lsDnT1xLFM
— NSC (@WHNSC) October 2, 2018
Also on Tuesday, around 200 French police launched a dawn anti-terror raid on one of the biggest Muslim centres in France, the Zahra Centre France, as well as on the homes of its directors.
Two of three people arrested were released, according to sources close to the inquiry, while the centre’s treasurer is expected to face a hearing on Wednesday for “illegal possession of firearms”.
The Zahra Centre was founded in 2009 by Yahia Gouasmi, a pro-Iran activist and religious figure who has spoken in support of Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
The alleged bomb plot came to light two days after thousands of Iranian opposition supporters gathered at an exhibition centre outside Paris on June 30.
The meeting was attended by two allies of US President Donald Trump, former House speaker Newt Gingrich and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.
The MEK was formed in the 1960s to overthrow the Shah of Iran and it continues to organise opposition to the current leaders of the Islamic Republic who took power following the 1979 revolution.
Belgium announced in July that it had arrested a couple in a Brussels suburb who were suspected of preparing to drive a car packed with explosives to the French rally.
A total of six people were then detained in coordinated raids by European police, including the Iranian diplomat based in Vienna.