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Iranian diplomat arrested over suspected plot against opposition meeting in France

Tehran calls the reports 'false flag ploy' and promises cooperation with European investigation
NCRI event took place outside Paris on 30 June (AFP)

An Iranian diplomat has been arrested along with two people suspected of plotting a bomb attack on a meeting of an exiled Iranian opposition group in France attended by Donald Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Belgian authorities said on Monday.

Three other people were arrested in France, but two of them were later released.

Several former European and Arab ministers also attended the meeting of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) - an umbrella bloc of opposition groups in exile that seek to topple the Iranian government.

Iran's foreign minister called the news a sinister "false flag ploy" and said Tehran was ready to work with all concerned parties to get to the bottom of it.

The NCRI event was held in Villepinte, near Paris on Saturday without incident.

The People's Mujahideen Organisation of Iran is the main component of NCRI. The group, also known by its Persian name Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK), had been listed as a terrorist organisation by the EU until 2009 and by the United States until 2012.

Two suspects in Belgium were intercepted by Belgian police on Saturday, with 500 grams of TATP, a home-made explosive produced from easily available chemicals, as well as a detonation device found in their car, a joint statement by the Belgian prosecutor and the intelligence services said.

The 38-year-old man and a 33-year-old woman, identified only as Amir S and Nasimeh N, were charged with attempted terrorist murder and preparation of a terrorist act, it said.

The diplomat at the Iranian embassy in the Austrian capital Vienna was arrested in Germany, the Belgian statement said. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is due to visit Austria on Wednesday.

Three people of Iranian origin were arrested in France to assess their link to the Brussels suspects, a French judicial source said. Two were released due to a lack of evidence against them while the third is being held for questioning, the source said.

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"How convenient: Just as we embark on a presidential visit to Europe, an alleged Iranian operation and its 'plotters' arrested," Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted.

"Iran unequivocally condemns all violence & terror anywhere, and is ready to work with all concerned to uncover what is a sinister false flag ploy."

The Belgian statement gave no further details about the diplomat, other than saying that he was suspected of having been in contact with the arrested Belgian pair.

It said one of those arrested in France, Merhad A, was a suspected accomplice of the pair in Brussels.

"A plot by the religious dictatorship ruling Iran to carry out a terrorist attack against the grand gathering of the Iranian Resistance in Villepinte was foiled," Shahin Gobadi, spokesman for NCRI, said in a statement.

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