Published June 18, 2003
PARIS – An Iranian opposition group was planning to attack Iranian diplomatic missions in Europe (search) and elsewhere, the French chief of intelligence said Wednesday, after three more Iranians set themselves on fire to protest a crackdown on the group.
Pierre de Bousquet de Florian, the head of France's counterintelligence agency, said none of the targeted missions was in France, where the Mujahedeen Khalq (search) is headquartered.
On Tuesday, police raided the group's walled compound in Auvers-Sur-Oise, north of Paris (search), and 12 other sites, detaining 159 people and seizing at least $8 million in U.S. currency.
The Mujahedeen Khalq "was preparing to commit attacks outside Iran, including in Europe," the intelligence chief said. He said the group was making Auvers-Sur-Oise "an operational center for terrorism."
Bousquet de Florian spoke at a news conference after a day of protests outside the agency's headquarters by scores of Mujahedeen Khalq members -- three of whom set themselves on fire in the course of the day.
Police said the three were severely burned. Late Wednesday, the Mujahedeen Khalq office in Washington said one of the three, a 40-year-old woman identified as Marzieh Babakhani, had died of her burns.
Two other Mujahedeen Khalq supporters -- in London and in Bern, Switzerland -- set themselves afire. There have been no deaths from the protests.
Paris Police Chief Jean-Paul Proust later banned demonstrations by the group "given these suicidal acts," and said protesters would be arrested.
In Switzerland, an Iranian man tried to set himself on fire outside the French Embassy in Bern during a small protest against the raids but was stopped by police. A woman set herself afire in front of the French Embassy in London, a day after a man set himself on fire there on Tuesday.
The sweep came a month after the Mujahedeen Khalq's armed wing was disarmed by U.S. forces in Iraq. The group, blacklisted by the United States and the European Union, has fought to topple Iran's clerical regime.
Developments in Iraq "deprived (the Mujahedeen Khalq) of its Baghdad headquarters" and of financing by the regime of Saddam Hussein, the French counterintelligence chief said.
An official of the National Council of Resistance, the group's so-called parliament-in-exile, denied the charges leveled by the DST chief.
"The Iranian resistance, in the last 22 years, has always functioned within the realm of the law of the host country," said Shahin Gobodi by telephone. "This is only an excuse to cover up the French dirty deal with the mullahs," he said, referring to Iran's clerical leaders.
Iranian President Mohammed Khatami praised the French action, and said the United States should follow suit.
"It is natural that we want all the people who have been involved in terrorist acts," he said apparently suggesting Tehran would like their extradition. Khatami said "there are documents and evidence against them."
The crackdown, which France said was planned a month ago, came as pro-democracy protesters in Iran put pressure on the clerical government with demonstrations calling for greater freedom.
Tuesday's raids by 1,300 police, some masked and heavily armed, were carried out based on intelligence indicating the group's "dangerous and illegal" activities, government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope said Wednesday.
"Our services had specific information on the development of activities of this organization," Cope said without elaborating.
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy had said Tuesday the group planned to turn France into a major support base.
The Mujahedeen have been based in France since shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the Iranian monarchy and brought Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power. The group had initially supported the revolution, but then engaged in a bitter dispute, in part, because the group disagreed with the supremacy of religious leaders. It has offices in several western cities.