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Denmark calls for EU sanctions on Iran after alleged assassination plot

Tehran dismisses charges as latest example of effort 'to damage Iranian relations with Europe'
Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen accused Tehran of being behind attempted attack (AP/File photo)

Denmark called on Tuesday for fresh European Union-wide sanctions against Iran and recalled its ambassador in Tehran after accusing an Iranian government intelligence service of trying to carry out a plot to assassinate an Iranian Arab opposition figure on its soil.

A Norwegian citizen of Iranian background was arrested in Sweden on 21 October in connection with the alleged plot and extradited to neighbouring Denmark, Swedish security police said.

The Norwegian suspect has denied the charges and the Iranian government also denied any connection to the alleged plot.

The attack was meant to target the leader of the Danish branch of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz (ASMLA), Danish intelligence chief Finn Borch Andersen said.

"We are dealing with an Iranian intelligence agency planning an attack on Danish soil. Obviously, we can't and won't accept that," Andersen told a news conference.

ASMLA seeks a separate state for ethnic Arabs in Iran's oil-producing southwestern province of Khuzestan. Arabs are a minority in Iran, and some activists view them as living under Iranian occupation.

Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen also told a press conference he believed the Iranian government was behind the attempted attack.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi dismissed the accusations.

"This is a continuation of enemies' plots to damage Iranian relations with Europe at this critical time," Iran's Tasnim news agency quoted him as saying.

The EU is trying to save a 2015 deal with Iran that curbed its nuclear activity in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions after the United States withdrew from the pact and reimposed far-flung financial penalties on Tehran.

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Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen called the planned attack "totally unacceptable" and said British Prime Minister Theresa May had voiced her support for Denmark during a meeting in Olso.

Washington also voiced support for Denmark and urged its allies to confront "the full range of Iran's threats to peace and security".

"We congratulate the government of Denmark on its arrest of an Iranian regime assassin," US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a tweet.

Suspect observed home of ASMLA leader

On 28 September, Danish police shut two major bridges to traffic and halted ferry services from Denmark to Sweden and Germany in a nationwide police operation to prevent a possible attack.

A few days earlier, the Norwegian suspect had been observed photographing and watching the Danish home of the ASMLA leader, police said.

In November 2017, Ahmad Mola Nissi, an Iranian exile who established ASMLA, was shot dead in the Netherlands. The Danish security service then bolstered police protection of the ASMLA leader in Denmark and two associates.

Last month, Iran summoned the envoys of the Netherlands, Denmark and Britain over a shooting attack on a military parade in Khuzestan that killed 25 people.

Iran accused the three countries of harbouring Iranian opposition groups.

Another Arab opposition group, the Ahwaz National Resistance, and the Islamic State militant group both claimed responsibility for the parade attack, though neither has provided conclusive evidence to back up its claim.