Austria to lift immunity of Iranian diplomat arrested over bomb plot

COMPILED FROM WIRE SERVICES
ISTANBUL
Published 03.07.2018 17:37

Austria plans to revoke the legal immunity of an Iranian diplomat who is suspected of involvement in a plot to bomb an Iranian opposition rally in France, officials said Tuesday.

The Iranian government was notified that the man's diplomatic status would be canceled within 48 hours unless Tehran does so first, Matthias Forenbacher, a spokesman for Austria's foreign minister, told The Associated Press.

The diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, was detained Sunday near the German city of Aschaffenburg on a European arrest warrant after a couple with Iranian roots was stopped in Belgium and authorities reported finding powerful explosives in their car. The web site of the Austrian Foreign Ministry lists Assadi as a counselor at the Iranian Embassy in Vienna.

Iran's ambassador was summoned to the ministry Monday and asked to "contribute to clarifying the situation," Forenbacher said. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is scheduled to travel to Austria on Wednesday for a long-planned visit.

Belgian authorities accuse Assadi of being part of an alleged plot to set off explosives at a rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) in neighboring France and want him extradited.

Munich prosecutors told the AP they are also investigating the diplomat in connection with the alleged plan.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called the allegations of a foiled terrorist plot a ploy Monday.

"How convenient: Just as we embark on a presidential visit to Europe, an alleged Iranian operation and its 'plotters arrested,'" Zarif said in a Twitter message. "Iran unequivocally condemns all violence & terror anywhere."

Who has been arrested?

Federal prosecutors in Brussels first revealed the arrests on Monday afternoon after charging a husband and wife who were described as Belgian nationals of Iranian origin.

Aged 38 and 33 and identified by their first names Amir and Nasimeh, they were said to have been planning a bomb attack on Saturday at a conference organized by the NCRI in a Paris suburb.

Belgian police found 500 grams of TATP, a highly unstable but powerful explosive, as well as a detonator inside their Mercedes car when they were stopped in a leafy residential area of the Belgian capital on Saturday. Separately, German police swooped Iranian diplomat Assadi.

French police arrested another three people on Saturday, although two of them were released on Monday, French legal sources said.

What was the alleged target?

Thousands of Iranian opposition supporters from all over Europe, many of them bussed in for the event, gathered Saturday at the Paris Convention Centre just north of the French capital for the NCRI's annual meeting.

The NCRI is an umbrella group for exiled opposition organizations, including the former rebel People's Mujahedin, which was once considered a terror group by European and American authorities and is banned in Iran.

The People's Mujahedin was formed in the 1960s to overthrow the Shah of Iran and it continues to organize opposition to the current leaders of the Islamic republic who took power following the 1979 revolution.

Special guests at this year's conference included former New York mayor and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and U.S. Republican firebrand and former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who both urged regime change in Iran.

The NCRI immediately pointed the finger at Tehran, saying the regime was behind the alleged plot.

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