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Denmark arrests suspect over Iranian 'assassination' plot

Denmark's security forces say they have arrested a man over an alleged plot by the Iranian intelligence service to assassinate an Iranian-Arab opposition figure on Danish soil.

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Nada Bashir, Euan McKirdy
Kara Fox, CNN
(CNN) — Denmark's security forces say they have arrested a man over an alleged plot by the Iranian intelligence service to assassinate an Iranian-Arab opposition figure on Danish soil.

The alleged plan had meant to target the leader of the Danish branch of the separatist Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz (ASMLA), Danish Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Anne Møller Ege told CNN.

The suspect is a Norwegian citizen of Iranian descent and was arrested on October 21, Ege said. The Danish Security and Intelligence Service (PET) allege the man conducted reconnaissance for Iranian authorities who planned to kill the opposition leader.

ASMLA, which Iran classifies as a terror organization, advocates for an independent Arab state within the Iranian province of Khuzestan.

In a statement on Wednesday, PET said it has been working on the "highly unusual and very serious" case for "an extended period of time."

The plan was foiled in late September following a "comprehensive police operation" across Denmark that saw bridges shut down and train operations suspended, the statement said.

"Plans by a foreign intelligence service to assassinate an individual in Denmark are in no way justifiable," the intelligence service added.

According to PET, Danish authorities have been providing "personal protection" to the ASMLA leader in question since the spring of 2018 in response to "tangible threats" from Iran, and have been working with foreign partners to investigate suspected Iranian intelligence activity in Denmark "for an extended period of time."

Iran rejects claim

Tehran has rejected what it calls "hostile" Danish claims.

On Tuesday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi dismissed the claim and said it was in line "with the enemies' plots and conspiracies against the good and ever-growing Iran-Europe relations under present grave and special conditions," according to state-run IRNA news.

Iran blamed ASMLA for carrying out an attack at the end of September that targeted an Iranian military parade, leaving at least 29 people dead and wounding more than 70 others.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry had summoned its ambassadors in the Netherlands and Denmark after that incident, as well as the British diplomat in charge of affairs, saying Tehran expressed "severe protest" over those countries for hosting "members of a terrorist group that was behind the terror attack in Ahvaz."

Following an address by Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen on Tuesday, the ministry also said that its ambassador to Iran had been recalled from Tehran for consultations.

Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen expressed his concern over the incident via Twitter, stating that "it is totally unacceptable that Iran or any other foreign state plans assassinations on Danish soil," reiterating that "further actions against Iran will be discussed in the EU."

Sanctions ahead?

Denmark will push for new EU-wide sanctions against Iran following the suspected assassination attempt, the ministry confirmed to CNN, adding that the government would be discussing "the issue of an Iranian intelligence agency's illegal activities in Europe" with international allies.

"This is an issue we will be dealing with within the EU, but of course we will work with any other states who are willing to cooperate with us on implementing sanctions against Iran," the Danish Foreign Ministry said.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted his approval of Denmark's actions in apprehending the "assassin" in the alleged plot, which he was part of a decades-long campaign of terror orchestrated by Tehran.

"We congratulate the government of #Denmark on its arrest of an Iranian regime assassin. For nearly 40 years, Europe has been the target of #Iran-sponsored terrorist attacks. We call on our allies and partners to confront the full range of Iran's threats to peace and security," he said.

European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told CNN that the organization is "following the reports and (is) in contact with the Danish authorities. At this stage, this issue is being directly dealt with by the member state in question."

UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has called the incident "deeply concerning," affirming that the UK is "with Denmark all the way."

Rasmussen tweeted a message of thanks to the UK government for its support, posting a picture of his meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May and saying Denmark would work "in close collaboration" with the UK and other countries to "stand up to Iran."

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