In a week that saw the French government act against Iranians suspected of involvement in a foiled bomb plot, police also raised a pro-Iranian Shi’ite center in the north of the country, accusing some of its officials of illegal possession of firearms.
Tuesday’s raid on the Zahra Center in the city of Grande-Synthe was accompanied by searches of several homes, including those of the center’s founder Yahia Gouasmi – a French Algerian convert to Shi’a Islam – and its religious leader, Jamel Tahiri.
The center’s assets have now been frozen for six months, and procedures to close its prayer room have been put in motion.
Founded by Gouasmi in 2005, the Zahra Center is home to several associations, including the Anti-Zionist Party and the Shi’a Federation of France.
The Anti-Zionist Party was founded by Gouasmi last January, with the aim of eradicating “all forms of Zionism” in France. The center’s website often carries material critical of Israel, although it claims not to be anti-Semitic.
French authorities suspect the groups associated with the center are closely aligned with Iran and support terrorist organizations including the Palestinian group Hamas and Hezbollah in Lebanon, both of which are themselves sponsored by Iran.
In a statement after the raid, the prefecture of Dunkirk, the region’s largest city, said the center’s activities have been monitored for some time because of its leaders’ support for terrorist organizations and for “advocating ideas contrary to the values of the Republic.”
The prefecture said the operation was also aimed at helping to prevent terrorism in France.
Eleven people attached to the center were questioned, and three were taken into custody, accused of illegal possession of firearms. Two of the three were later released and the third – Gouasmi’s son – charged after two firearms were found during a raid on his home. He will appear in court on October 24.
Speaking the press after his house was searched, Tahiri said he was not really surprised by the raid on the center.
“The problem of our country is that the authorities don’t like it when one denounces things that don’t fit with conventional thought,” he said. “I spoke with police officers who searched my home and I saw the warrant that talked about terrorism. I don’t understand because everything we are accused of is false.”
Tahiri said everything the center does is transparent, and “everything we do and say is published on our website.”
Taheri, 42, presents himself as a sheikh educated in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, a stronghold of Hezbollah.
He did not comment on the firearms allegations, although Gouasmi senior told reporters all the weapons found were legally permitted.
Also on Tuesday, the French government announced it was freezing the assets of two Iranians – a diplomat currently under arrest in Germany and a senior intelligence official in Tehran – in connection with a foiled plot to bomb an Iranian dissident group’s rally near Paris last June.
French authorities have neither confirmed nor denied that there are any links between the two incidents.
Pierre Conesa, an expert in international strategic issues and a former civil servant at the defense ministry said he doubted it was a coincidence that the Shi’ite center was raided at the same time as the government acted against the Iranian terror suspects.
“Is it a mission of prevention linked to the foiled attack against the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran?” he wondered, referring to the exiled group – also known as the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) – whose rally was allegedly targeted by the plotters.
Conesa said that both the Tehran regime and the NCRI are accepted in France, even though both are controversial. (He said the NCRI enjoys support from Saudi Arabia, where Salafi Islam is prevalent – “and don’t forget that Salafist jihadists are a threat to France.”)
On its website, the Zahra Center says its goal is to make known the message of Islam through the eyes of Mohammed and his family, to translate their thoughts and to testify of their works. Its Facebook page has more than 8,000 followers.
Source » cnsnews