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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 April 2019

Iraqi arrested in Sweden for Iranian spying: report

Journalist was detained and accused of illegal intelligence activities, says British newspaper

Police vehicles block a road leading to Copenhagen in October 2018, in response to an Iranian plot uncovered by Danish intelligence. EPA
Police vehicles block a road leading to Copenhagen in October 2018, in response to an Iranian plot uncovered by Danish intelligence. EPA

An Iraqi journalist has been arrested in Sweden accused of spying on a separatist movement on behalf of Iran, according to a British newspaper.

The Daily Telegraph said that the Stockholm-based journalist was arrested for allegedly spying on members of the Ahvaz opposition group, whose leaders have previously been targeted by Iranian assassins.

The movement wants a separate state for ethnic Arabs in Iran’s south-west province of Khuzestan but is considered a terrorist group by Tehran.

The journalist, named by the paper as Raghdan Al Khazali, reportedly worked for Euro Times, a Sweden-based publication launched in 2016 and distributed within the EU, according to its Facebook page. It was not clear when the journalist was arrested.

He reportedly made several trips to a newspaper office in the Netherlands that has close links to the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz (ASMLA), which has been launched attacks on Iranian targets since 2005.

The Telegraph said that Mr Khazali has been detained pending a trial accused of “serious illegal intelligence activities against an individual”.

His lawyer was quoted by the newspaper as denying the charges but said that she was subject to a “gag order” that meant that she could not say anything further. The lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.

Scandinavia has been a proxy battlefield for the dispute between the Arab nationalists and the Iranian state, with some of its leaders living in exile there. ASMLA split in 2015 with one half of the group based in Denmark, the other in the Netherlands.

Denmark’s intelligence services released details in October last year of a planned Iranian-inspired assassination plot against three leaders living in the country after police shut down the capital Copenhagen to thwart the planned attack.

A Norwegian national of Iranian descent was later extradited to Denmark from neighbouring Sweden and has denied the charge of helping a foreign intelligence service to plot an assassination, officials said.

The suspected operation was seen as retaliation for an attack by militants on a military convoy in the Iranian city of Ahvaz that left at least 25 people dead in September last year. Iran blames the attack on Ahvaz nationalists.

The Denmark plot was the latest incident that came to light after Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, suggested that Iran conducted “covert assassination operations in the heart of Europe” but gave no further detail.

The founder of the Ahvaz group, Ahmad Mola Nissi, was shot dead in the Netherlands in late 2017. The Dutch government said earlier this year that it had “strong indications” that Iran was involved in the killing.

The French authorities also blamed Iran’s intelligence services for a plot to bomb a rally of Iranian opposition groups in Paris in June.

Two Belgians of Iranian descent were arrested while carrying explosives in their car. German police also arrested an Iranian diplomat based in Austria and he has been extradited to stand trial in Belgium.

Nobody was available at the Ahwaz Liberation movement or from Euro Times to comment.

Updated: March 31, 2019 05:50 PM

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