October 23, 2019 / 6:11 PM / a month ago

Albania says it foiled Iranian plot to attack exiled dissidents

TIRANA (Reuters) - Albanian police foiled a number of planned attacks last year by Iranian agents against an exiled Iranian opposition group living in Albania, a senior officer said on Wednesday.

General Police Director Ardi Veliu said an active cell of the foreign operations unit of the Iranian QUDS forces had been discovered by Albania’s security institutions.

“The Albanian authorities have identified these individuals and thanks to intelligence from informants inside the criminal organizations have prevented the plan (attack) of March 2018 and the eventual planning of attacks by organized crime members ... on behalf of Iran,” Veliu said.

Since 2014, some 3,000 members of the People’s Mujahideen Organization of Iran (PMOI), also known by its Farsi name Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK), have settled in Albania after they were attacked in Iraq and now live in a camp near Durres, the country’s main port.

A spokesman told Reuters police were making public the attempted plot since it had taken a year to assemble evidence and they would try to arrest the main suspects, who are in Austria and Turkey.

Two were held in March 2018 but set free for lack of evidence.

An opposition leader denounced the announcement as a ploy by Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama to divert attention from Tirana’s failure to start entry talks with the European Union.

Last December, Albania expelled Iran’s ambassador and another diplomat for “damaging its national security”.

Led by Paris-based Maryam Rajavi, the dissidents in exile cast themselves as an alternative to the Shi’ite Muslim clerical rule in Iran.

Rajavi told Reuters in July she stood for democracy, separation of state and religion, private investments and a non-nuclear Iran.

“It is time that the Iranian regime’s embassies in Europe, including the one in Albania, be shut down. They are not diplomatic centers, but direct and facilitate the regime’s terrorist operations abroad,” Ali Safavi, an official with the foreign affairs committee of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran, said in a statement.

The NCRI is an umbrella bloc of opposition groups in exile that includes the MEK.

France said in October 2018 there was no doubt Iran’s intelligence ministry was behind a June plot to attack the NCRI’s annual rally outside Paris.

It seized assets belonging to Tehran’s intelligence services and two Iranian nationals and expelled an Iranian diplomat.

Iran has repeatedly denied the allegations.

Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris; Editing by David Holmes and Andrew Cawthorne

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