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Albania Expels Two Iranian Diplomats For Allegedly ‘Harming’ National Security

An Albanian policeman checks a car with a dog at World Cup qualifying match in Elbasan in 2016.
An Albanian policeman checks a car with a dog at World Cup qualifying match in Elbasan in 2016.

Albania says it has expelled two Iranian diplomats for national security reasons, with a U.S. official saying one was Tehran’s ambassador to the Balkan country.

Albanian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Edlira Prendi told reporters on December 19 the diplomats were suspected of "involvement in activities that harm the country's security" and for "violating their diplomatic status."

A Foreign Ministry spokesman told the Associated Press that the expulsions followed talks with other countries, including Israel.

Albanian officials did not specify who the diplomats were or the alleged offenses.

But U.S. President Donald Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, wrote on Twitter that Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama “just expelled the Iranian ambassador, signaling to Iran’s leaders that their support for terrorism will not be tolerated.”

"We stand with PM Rama and the Albanian people as they stand up to Iran's reckless behavior in Europe and across the globe," Bolton added.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement described the diplomats as "two Iranian agents who plotted terrorist attacks in Albania."

News agencies identified Iran’s ambassador to Tirana as Gholamhossein Mohammadnia.

Reuters reported that an Iranian diplomat contacted by the news agency did not respond to questions and that calls to the Iranian Embassy in Tirana were not answered.

Private Top Channel television said the Iranians were suspected of links to an alleged plot to attack a World Cup qualifying match in 2016 between Muslim-majority Albania and Israel two years ago in Albania. About 20 people were arrested in Albania and Kosovo following the match.

Albania’s relations with Tehran have been strained since an estimated 2,000 members of the Iranian exile opposition group People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) arrived in the Balkan country in 2013.

Albania took in the members of the group, also known as the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), at the requested of the United States and United Nations after they were forced out of Iraq.

Most of the PMOI member are housed at a large camp near the village of Manze on the Adriatic Sea.

With reporting by AFP, AP, The Jerusalem Post, and Reuters