• Monday 10th December 2018

The story behind Iran’s ‘murder plot’ in Denmark

In an alleged plot that has taken weeks to come to light, Denmark has accused Iran of planning to assassinate an activist on its soil.

Iran has dismissed the allegations. But Denmark has recalled its ambassador from Tehran and is speaking to other EU countries about how to respond.

Both countries had already clashed this year after a deadly shooting at an Iranian military parade in September.

Iran accused Denmark, the Netherlands and Britain of harbouring members of militant opposition groups following the deadly attack, in which more than 25 people were killed.

One of those groups is at the centre of Denmark’s murder plot allegation.

Their claim also comes as the EU tries to save a landmark nuclear deal with Iran, from which the US has already withdrawn.

In August, the Trump administration reimposed sanctions on the country, and a second wave comes into force on 5 November.

So what does Denmark say happened? What’s been the response? And has this happened elsewhere in Europe?

What happened in the investigation?

The drama started in September, when – seemingly from nowhere – a large area around Denmark’s capital Copenhagen was cut off.

Police closed bridges, boats and trains to and from Zealand, Denmark’s largest island, in a massive hunt for a Swedish-registered black Volvo.

Three people involved in a “serious crime” were in the car, an official statement said at the time. “Witnesses who see the vehicle should contact the police immediately,” it added.

After hours of confusion and travel chaos, the authorities reopened all transport links and apologised, saying in a tweet there was nothing new to report on the case.

Rumours have circulated ever since about what prompted the unprecedented action, which came just six days after the Iranian military parade was attacked.

On Tuesday, the shocking answer came.

Finn Borch Andersen, head of Denmark’s intelligence service Politiets Efterretningstjeneste (PET), said the agency believed Iran “was planning an attack in Denmark” against three activists.

The trio, who live in the city of Ringsted, south-west of Copenhagen, are part of the separatist Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of al-Ahwaz (ASMLA).

What is ASMLA?

The Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of al-Ahwaz was set up in 1999, and is classified as a terrorist group in Iran

ASMLA is one of several groups that wants a separate Arab state in the country’s south-western Khuzestan Province

It split in two in 2015, with one faction based in the Netherlands and the other based in Denmark. Both groups are called ASMLA

Group founder Ahmad Mola Nissi was shot dead in November 2017 outside his home in the Netherlands

PET says days before the manhunt on 28 September, agents saw an individual taking photos of the ASMLA branch leader’s home.

At Tuesday’s press conference, the PET chief said they thought this person – a Norwegian citizen of Iranian origin – planned to give the pictures to Iran, which could be used to plan an attack on Danish soil.

Agents were further concerned when a Swedish-registered black Volvo starting moving “suspiciously” outside the house, Mr Andersen said.

When they tried to stop the car, it sped off – prompting fears of an imminent attack.

This was the reason behind the road closures and the epic manhunt for the vehicle.

Danish newspaper Politiken reports that the authorities have since spoken to the Volvo passengers, and decided the car had nothing to do with the case.