LONDON: An Iranian diplomat has been arrested along with two people accused of plotting to blow up a rally of opposition activists calling for regime change in Tehran, Belgian authorities said on Monday.
Three other arrests were made in France but two of them were later released.
The diplomat works at the Austrian embassy in Vienna, and was detained in Germany. He is a contact of a married Belgian couple of Iranian origin who were arrested in Brussels with 500 grams of the chemical explosive TATP and a detonation device.
Amir S, 38, and Nasimeh N, 33, “are suspected of having attempted to carry out a bomb attack” on Saturday in the Paris suburb of Villepinte, during the rally organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the Belgian federal prosecutor said.
Three other people were arrested in France in connection with the bomb plot. Merhad A, 54, was detained on Saturday afternoon near the event, and the other two who were arrested in Senlis, north of Paris, were released due to a lack of evidence against them, a French judicial source said.
Tehran has long called for a crackdown on the NCRI in Paris, Riyadh, and Washington. The group is regularly criticized in state media.
“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,” said NCRI spokesman Shahin Gobadi.
Following the arrests, Belgian authorities also conducted five raids in different parts of the country but did not elaborate on whether anything was found.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel on Twitter thanked police and intelligence officers for their work.
“Once more the good cooperation between countries has borne fruit,” Michel wrote.
About 25,000 people attended Saturday’s rally in Paris. They waved the red, green and white flag of the NCRI, cheered its leader Maryam Rajavi and called for regime change in Iran.
Among those at the rally were US President Donald Trump’s legal adviser, the former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, the former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich, and other leading politicians from the US, Europe and the Middle East.
Addressing the rally, Giulani said the prospect of regime change was closer than ever after a recent wave of strikes and protests. “Freedom is right around the corner,” he said, and called for a boycott of companies “that continually do business with this regime.”
Salman Al-Ansari, head of the Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee, told the rally the Iranian opposition was sending a strong message of “hope and peace” against a regime of “conspiracies and violations.”
“The Iranian regime is a system based on conspiracies and violations against the safe and secure countries and peoples such as the Yemeni, Syrian, Lebanese or Iraqi people,” he said. Even Makkah had been the victim of a plot by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s regime.
The efforts of the Iranian opposition would ensure that “the true face of Iran returned to what it used to be in the past — the cradle of great human civilizations,” he said.
“Throughout your 53 years of heroic history of sacrifice … the great Iranian people have been subject to great and unprecedented oppression and injustice. Today is a victory for civilized and knowledgeable Iran. The Iran of civilization and humanity, Iran of science and culture, Iran of tolerance and brotherhood, not the Iran of Khomeini and Khamenei and Soleimani and Rouhani.”
In southwestern Iran on Monday there were further protests over polluted water in Abadan, 12km from Khorramshahr, where 11 people were hurt in protests on Saturday.