The Europe-based opposition to Iran’s ruling mullahs charged on Thursday that the plot to bomb its annual resistance rally near Paris on June 30 was approved by Iran’s highest leaders.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran quoted its intelligence sources inside the country as saying that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and President Hassan Rouhani approved the plan.
Belgian authorities foiled the plot when they found explosives in a car driven by a couple with ties to Iran. Prosecutors said the two were directed by Assadolah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat/spy posted at the country’s embassy in Vienna. After the Belgian arrests, German authorities apprehended Mr. Assadi, who had passed the explosives to the selected bombers, prosecutors said.
U.S. officials say Iran routinely packs its embassies in Europe with intelligence operatives who aggressively spy on exiled opponents.
The Tehran regime, pegged by the U.S. as the world’s chief state sponsor of terrorism, has rejected the charges.
Some U.S. media outlets suggested that the plot was a “false flag” staged by the council, often referred to as the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran, or MEK.
But U.S. officials this week said they are certain Iran set into motion the plan to kill hundreds at MEK’s annual “grand gathering” of about 25,000.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iran routinely uses embassies as terrorist centers.
“Just this past week there were Iranians arrested in Europe who were preparing to conduct a terror plot in Paris, France. We have seen this malign behavior in Europe,” Mr. Pompeo told Britain’s Sky News.
A senior State Department official attending the NATO conference in Brussels bluntly accused Iran as the Trump administration seeks to isolate the Islamic republic financially.
“We went to Saudi Arabia to coordinate stronger pressure on Iran,” the official told reporters. “We discussed new ways to deprive the regime of revenues to terrorize people and to terrorize other nations. We discussed how Iran uses embassies as cover to plot terrorist attacks. The most recent example is the plot that the Belgians foiled, and we had an Iranian diplomat out of the Austrian Embassy as part of the plot to bomb a meeting of Iranian opposition leaders in Paris.”
The official added: “The United States is urging all nations to carefully examine diplomats in Iranian embassies to ensure their countries’ own security. 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.”
Dissidents now are demanding that Germany send Mr. Assadi, whom they call a “terrorist diplomat,” to Belgium to face justice with three other accused co-conspirators — the couple and another Belgian arrested in Paris on the day of the planned attack.
All three are of Iranian descent. Iran wants Mr. Assadi sent back to Austria and granted diplomatic immunity. MEK wants Germany to turn him over to Belgian prosecutors. Belgian authorities described Mr. Assadi as the leader of a Belgium-based sleeper cell.
“In Belgium, it is more probable that Assadi will face justice and has to answer all sorts of questions and does not have any diplomatic immunity,” said Shahin Gobadi, an MEK spokesman.
The MEK intelligence report said the Paris attack was approved months ago by every lever of Iranian power, from the supreme leader to the foreign and intelligence ministries to the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The report said Mr. Assadi’s cover was as a counselor. In fact, he is the Ministry of Intelligence station chief in Vienna and the ministry’s coordinator for other stations in Europe.
“His main task was espionage and conspiracy against the [MEK], and he has been traveling to various European countries in this regard,” the report said.
MEK runs an extensive intelligence and resistance operation inside Iran. It has disclosed advances in Iran’s nuclear program that Western intelligence missed.
Asked about the MEK report, Charles Carithers, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said: “The ODNI is closely following the reports about the arrests in Germany and Belgium. We do not have a comment on who was or not involved and are waiting to hear the results of the investigation.”
A joint Belgian-German press statement said the couple were charged with “attempted terrorist murder and the preparation of a terrorist offense.”
They were intercepted by Belgian police who searched their Mercedes and found 500 grams of the explosive TATP and an ignition system. That seizure prompted searches of five houses in five Belgian towns.
Said the senior U.S. official: “We are working very closely with the Belgians and the Austrians and the Germans to get to the bottom of this plot to conduct a bomb attack in Paris that had two Americans speaking, attending.”
Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister who negotiated the Trump-discarded nuclear deal with Obama administration Secretary of State John F. Kerry, scoffed.
“How convenient: Just as we embark on a presidential visit to Europe, an alleged Iranian operation and its ‘plotters arrested,’ ” Mr. Zarif said on Twitter. “Iran unequivocally condemns all violence & terror anywhere.”
• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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