Iranian Exiles Set Selves on Fire in Paris

Published June 18, 2003

| Associated Press

Two Iranian women set themselves on fire Wednesday during a protest in Paris against a major raid at the offices of an Iranian opposition group, police said.

It was the latest in a series of dramatic protests in Europe against Tuesday's crackdown on the Mujahedeen Khalq (search), which is accused of terrorism by the United States and the European Union.

Government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope (search) reiterated Wednesday that the raids were carried out based on intelligence indicating the group's "dangerous and illegal" activities.

"Our services had specific information on the development of activities of this organization," Cope said without elaborating.

At the Paris protest, which began early Wednesday morning, 42-year-old Marzieh Babakhani doused herself with a flammable liquid and lit a match, according to police and the National Council of Resistance of Iran (search). She was rushed to the hospital after other protesters put out the flames.

Several hours later, a supporter identified as Sedigheh Mojaveri set herself ablaze and was hospitalized with serious burns.

The Paris demonstration, which drew about 50 people, took place outside the headquarters of France's counter-intelligence agency, known as the DST (search), where the group's members were being detained.

By Wednesday, police had released all but 26 of the 159 people detained in the Tuesday raids, which also included the seizure of several suitcases of hundred dollar bills amounting to $1.3 million.

Among those who remained in detention was a top symbol of the group, Maryam Rajavi, the wife of Iraq-based Mujahedeen leader Massoud Rajavi (search), police said.

Reaction from sympathizers of the group, known for its militancy, was swift.

On Tuesday, a 38-year-old man in London set himself on fire during a protest outside the French Embassy. About 50 protesters in Hamburg, Germany, were detained after some entered the Iranian consulate, kicking over furniture.

The Tuesday 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.

French officials accused the activists of mounting a support base in France and possibly planning attacks on French soil. The raids were ordered by France's top anti-terrorist judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere.

The move against the Mujahedeen also comes as Iran's conservative Muslim government is being rocked by widespread protests calling for greater freedom and democracy.

It was unclear whether the raids, which France said were planned a month ago, were connected to the recent unrest inside Iran. But the crackdown could hinder the group's ability to benefit from any weakening of the Tehran government.

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 fell out over its advocacy of a secular regime. It has offices in several western cities.

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