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TERRORISM

Two charged over plot to attack Iran opposition rally in France

Belgium on Monday charged a husband and wife over a plot to bomb a weekend rally by an exiled Iranian opposition group in France where close Donald Trump ally Rudy Giuliani was in attendance. Three arrests were also made in France.

Two charged over plot to attack Iran opposition rally in France
People attend the "Free Iran 2018 - the Alternative" event on June 30, 2018 in Villepinte, north of Paris during the Iranian resistance national council (CNRI) annual meeting. Photo: AFP
Amir S., 38, and Nasimeh N., 33, both Belgian nationals, “are suspected of having attempted to carry out a bomb attack” on Saturday in the Paris suburb of Villepinte, during a conference organised by the People's Mujahedin of Iran, a statement from the Belgian federal prosecutor said.
   
The couple, described by prosecutors as being “of Iranian origin”, were carrying 500 grams (about a pound) of the volatile explosive TATP along with a detonation device when an elite police squad stopped them in a residential district of Brussels.
   
Belgian prosecutors said an alleged accomplice was under arrest in France, while two others were released after questioning by French police.
 
Three people were also being held in France on Monday, a legal source told AFP.
 
“The investigations aim to determine the relations they might have with the suspects arrested in Belgium” on Monday.
 
The Belgian statement said that an Iranian diplomat at the Austrian embassy in Vienna, a contact of the couple, was also arrested in Germany.
   
Police carried out five raids across Belgium on Saturday linked to the affair, authorities said, though they refused to detail any results of the operation.
 
Iranian opposition group the National Council of Resistance of Iran accused Tehran of being behind the alleged plot.
 
“The terrorists from the Mullahs' regime in Belgium assisted by its terrorist-diplomats planned this attack,” said a statement sent to AFP.
 
The developments came on the day Iranian President Hassan Rouhani arrived to Switzerland for a trip Tehran said was of “crucial importance” for cooperation between the Islamic Republic and Europe after the US withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear agreement.
   
President Rouhani is also due to visit Austria, the country holding the six-monthly presidency of the EU.
   
At the rally, Trump allies Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani urged regime change in Iran, saying the prospect was closer than ever after the Islamic Republic was hit by a wave of strikes and protests.
   
Former House speaker Gingrich and ex-New York mayor and lawyer Giuliani also told opposition supporters that Trump needed to turn up the heat on European countries still seeking to do business with Tehran despite reimposed US sanctions.
   
The Belgian statement said about 25,000 people attended the rally in France.
 
The People's Mojahedin (MEK), formed in the 1960s to overthrow the shah of Iran, fought the rise of the mullahs in Tehran following the 1979 Islamic revolution.
   
It earned itself a listing as a “terrorist organisation” by the US State Department in 1997 and was only removed from terror watchlists by the European Union in 2008 and Washington in 2012.
   
Belgium has been on high alert since the smashing of a terror cell in the town of Verviers in January 2015 that was planning an attack on police.

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TERRORISM

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks

US Vice President Kamala Harris and French Prime Minister Jean Castex laid wreaths at a Paris cafe and France's national football stadium Saturday six years since deadly terror attacks that left 130 people dead.

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks
US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff lay flowers after ceremonies at Le Carillon bar and Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, at which 130 people were killed during the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/POOL/AFP

The attacks by three separate teams of Islamic State group jihadists on the night of November 13, 2015 were the worst in France since World War II.

Gunmen mowed down 129 people in front of cafes and at a concert hall in the capital, while a bus driver was killed after suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the stadium in its suburbs.

Harris, wrapping up a four-day trip to France, placed a bouquet of white flowers in front of a plaque honouring the victims outside a Paris cafe.

Castex attended a minute of silence at the Stade de France football stadium, along with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, before laying wreaths at the sites of the other attacks inside Paris.

In front of the Bataclan concert hall, survivors and relatives of the victims listened to someone read out the names of each of the 90 people killed during a concert there six years ago.

Public commemorations of the tragedy were called off last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to come and we all found it really tough,” said Bruno Poncet, who made it out alive of the Bataclan.

But he said the start of a trial over the attacks in September meant that those attending the commemoration this year felt more united.

‘Overcome it all’

“We’ve really bonded thanks to the trial,” he said. “During previous commemorations, we’d spot each other from afar without really daring to speak to each other. We were really shy. But standing up in court has really changed everything.”

The marathon trial, the biggest in France’s modern legal history, is expected to last until May 2022.

Twenty defendants are facing sentences of up to life in prison, including the sole attacker who was not gunned down by police, Salah Abdeslam, a French-Moroccan national who was captured in Brussels. Six of the defendants are being tried in absentia.

Poncet said he felt it was crucial that he attend the hearings. “I can’t possibly not. It’s our lives that are being discussed in that room, and it’s important to come to support the others and to try to overcome it all.”

Survivors have taken to the witness stand to recount the horror of the attacks, but also to describe life afterwards.

Several said they had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, grappling with survivor’s guilt, or even feeling alienated from the rest of society.

Saturday’s commemorations are to wrap up with a minute of silence at the Stade de France in the evening before the kick-off for a game between France and Kazakhstan.

It was during a football match between France and Germany that three suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2015.

Then-French president Francois Hollande was one of the 80,000 people in the crowd, before he was discreetly whisked away to avoid triggering mass panic.

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