Tower: Two Iranian nationals, recently arrested by France and Germany, will be extradited to Belgium in connection to a terror plot that targeted an Iranian opposition rally outside of Paris, Reuters reported Wednesday.

The rally, which took place Saturday, was held by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an Iranian opposition group. Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s lawyer, spoke at the rally calling for the removal of the regime’s rulers.

On Saturday, Belgian authorities arrested an Iranian couple who had 500 grams of a homemade explosive and a detonator in their car.

France has arrested a man of Iranian origin and Germany had arrested an Austria-based Iranian diplomat. According to Reuters, Belgium asked France and Germany to extradite their suspects. A European intelligence source told Reuters that Belgium was taking the lead in the investigation.

On Wednesday, Iran’s foreign ministry summoned the  ambassadors of France, Germany, and Belgium to protest the arrest of the Iranian diplomat. Earlier in the day, Iran had also protested to France over allowing the NCRI meeting to take place on French soil. Iran considers the group to be a terrorist group.

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi dismissed the European claims about a terror plot, saying that the arrest was part of a plot by the United States and Israel to damage European-Iranian relations. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif similarly referred to the charges as a “sinister false flag ploy.”

Iran has been accused in the paste of planning terror attacks, especially targeting opponents of the regime, on European soil. In November of last year, an advocate for Iranian-Arabs was fatally shot in the Hague. In 2012, an al Qaeda terrorist testified in court that Iran facilitated the travel of  him and his accomplices to carry out terror attacks in Europe.

In one of the most notorious of these cases, Iranian agents entered a Berlins restaurant and killed three Kurdish activists and wounded several others in a hail of gunfire. The conviction of the assassins, who were tied to the regime, led to a rupture in relations between Germany and Iran.

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*** Deeper dive:

An Iranian diplomat and members of what authorities described as an “Iranian sleeper cell” were arrested this week in Belgium, Germany and France, as they were allegedly planning to a bomb a high-level meeting in Paris. The arrests came after a complex investigation by several European intelligence agencies and were announced by Belgium’s Minister of the Interior, Jan Jambon.

The operation against the alleged sleeper cell began on Saturday, June 30, when members of Belgium’s Special Forces Group, stopped a Mercedes car in Brussels. The car was carrying a married Belgian couple of Iranian descent, named in media reports as Amir S., 38, and Nasimeh N., 33. According to the Belgian Ministry of the Interior, Nasimeh N. was found to be carrying 500 grams of triacetone triperoxide (TATP) explosive and a detonator inside a toiletries bag. On the following day, Sunday, July 1, German police arrested Assadollah A., an Iranian diplomat stationed in Iran’s embassy in Vienna, Austria. According to reports, the diplomat was driving a rental car in the southeastern German state of Bavaria, heading to Austria. On the same day, a fourth person, who has not been named, was arrested by authorities in France, reportedly in connection to the other three arrests.

The four detainees were in contact with each other and were allegedly working for the Iranian government. All four have been charged with an alleged foiled plot to bomb the annual conference of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) that took place last Saturday, June 30, in a Paris suburb. The National Council of Resistance of Iran is a France-based umbrella group of Iranian dissidents, led by Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a militant group that has roots in radical Islam and Marxism. Between 1970 and 1976, the group assassinated six American officials in Iran and in 1970 tried to kill the United States ambassador to the country. It initially supported the Islamic Revolution of 1979, but later withdrew its support, accusing the government of Ayatollah Khomeini of “fascism”. It continued its operations from exile, mainly from Iraq, where its armed members were trained by the Palestine Liberation Organization and other Arab leftist groups.

Until 2009, the European Union and the United States officially considered the MEK a terrorist organization. But the group’s sworn hatred of the government in Iran brought it close to Washington after the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. By 2006, the US military was openly collaborating with MEK forces in Iraq, and in 2012 the group was dropped from the US Department of State’s foreign terrorist organizations. Today the group enjoys open protection from the EU and the US. According to Belgian authorities, the four members of the Iranian sleeper cell were planning to bomb the MEK-sponsored NCRI meeting in Paris under instructions by the Iranian government. Conference participants included over 30 senior US officials, including US President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who addressed the meeting. Stephen Harper, Canada’s former prime minister, also spoke at the conference.

Speaking in Brussels this week, Belgium’s Interior Minister Jambon praised the country’s intelligence, security and law enforcement agencies for foiling the alleged bomb plot in Paris. But Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, dismissed claims of an Iranian sleeper cell as “fake news” and described reports of a foiled bomb attack as “a sinister false flag plot”.

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Denise Simon