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French police raid Shiite Islamic centre

France moves against Iran over bomb plot near Paris

NORD: Photo shows a room of the Zahra Centre, the headquarters of a a Shiite Islamic association in Grande Synthe, northern France, after it was raided by 200 police men as well as the homes of its leaders who are suspected of supporting “terrorist organizations.” — AFP

LILLE: About 200 police raided the headquarters in northern France of a Shiite Islamic association and the homes of its leaders who are suspected of supporting “terrorist organizations”, security sources said. The operation against the Zahra Centre France in Grande Synthe, a suburb of the port city of Dunkirk, was staged as part of the “prevention of terrorism” procedures, regional authorities said in a statement.

A security source told AFP that 11 people had been arrested, while French authorities also froze the financial assets of the centre which is headed by Yahia Gouasmi, who is known for his anti-Zionist views and links to Iran. Police have been closely following the activities of the Zahra Centre “because of the strong support by its leaders for several terrorist organizations and in favor of movements backing ideas that are contrary to the values” of France.

On its website, the association says its purpose since its foundation in 2009 has been “to make known the message of Islam through the eyes of the Prophet and his family.” It was unclear whether the arrests were linked to a suspected plot in France to bomb a gathering of Iranian opposition group the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) in June. Police swooped on six people in Belgium, France and Germany after authorities revealed the alleged plot, including an Iranian diplomat. France is still on high alert after a wave of Islamist attacks since 2015 in which 246 people have lost their lives.

Bomb plot near Paris
In another development, France froze the assets of two suspected Iranian intelligence operatives on yesterday in retaliation for an alleged bomb plot uncovered near Paris in June, in a move that could cause diplomatic tensions with Tehran. The French government announced it had frozen assets belonging to two Iranians and Iran’s ministry of security and intelligence following the alleged plot to bomb an Iranian opposition group in a Parisian suburb in June.

“This extremely serious act envisaged on our territory could not go without a response,” France’s interior, foreign and economy ministers said in a rare joint statement. “In taking this decision, France underlines its determination to fight against terrorism in all its forms, particularly on its own territory,” they added.

The foiled attack in June was to have targeted a meeting of thousands of Iranian opposition supporters which was also attended by leading US figures, including close allies of President Donald Trump. Six people were arrested afterwards in coordinated raids by European police forces, including an Iranian diplomat called Assadollah Asadi, who is set to be extradited from Germany to Belgium for prosecution. Asadi was targeted by France for the six-month asset freeze yesterday along with another man named as Saeid Hashemi Moghadam.

Iran has denied any involvement in the alleged bomb plot and said the opposition group, the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK), had orchestrated the plot to discredit Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as he embarked on a tour of Europe. The counter measures by France could have major diplomatic repercussions at a time when France is working to keep Iran in the 2015 accord to limit its nuclear program amid major tensions in the Middle East. French President Emmanuel Macron had vowed to visit Tehran early in his term as president, but major differences between the countries on issues such as the wars in Syria and Yemen, as well as the bomb plot, have led to tensions.- Agencies

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