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France Freezes Iranian Intelligence Assets, Raids Shiite Center

Policemen spread around the "Centre Zahra France" religious association in Grande Synthe during an operation of "terrorism prevention", near Dunkirk, October 2, 2018

France says it has frozen the assets of Iran’s Ministry of Security and Intelligence, as well as of two Iranian men thought to be members of the country’s intelligence service.

Also Tuesday, around 200 police launched a dawn anti-terror raid on one of the biggest Shiite Muslim centers in France, the Zahra Centre France, as well as the homes of its directors. A total of 11 people were questioned and three were arrested, security sources told AFP, including for the illegal possession of firearms.

The French government made the announcement in its gazette on October 2, identifying one of the men as Assadollah Assadi, the same name as an Iranian diplomat who has been arrested over an alleged plot to bomb an Iranian opposition group in France in June.

"This extremely serious act envisaged on our territory could not go without a response," France's interior, foreign and economy ministers said in a rare joint statement. "In taking this decision, France underlines its determination to fight against terrorism in all its forms, particularly on its own territory," they added.

A German court approved on October 1 Assadi’s extradition to Belgium, where he is accused of masterminding the plot.

Assadi was accredited as a counsellor at the Iranian Embassy in Vienna before his July detention in Germany. Iran has denied the existence of any such plot, with Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi saying the allegations “aimed at damaging EU-Iran relations."

Meanwhile, French defense minister Florence Parly said on Tuesday that Iran's nuclear ballistic program is a threat and the country's influence within the Middle East region. Parly was speaking as she held a meeting with U.S. defense secretary James Mattis.

Parly's statement and the actions announced today can be sign of a toughening in France's stance toward Iran.

The Zahra Centre France was founded in 2009 by Yahia Gouasmi, who has supports Lebanese Islamist group Hezbollah and the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Gouasmi is also the founder of the Anti-Zionist Party in France and is an associate of controversial comedian Dieudonne M'bala M'bala, a convicted anti-Semite.

The raids on Tuesday were staged as part of the "prevention of terrorism" procedures, regional authorities said in a statement.

Police have been closely following the activities of the Zahra Centre "because of the strong support by its leaders for several terrorist organizations and in favor of movements backing ideas that are contrary to the values" of France, a statement from local authorities said.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP