Iran says Saudi plot suspect is member of opposition group
NEW YORK - Iran injected a new twist yesterday into the week-old US accusation of an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington, asserting that one of the defendants belongs to an outlawed and exiled opposition group.
The defendant, Gholam Shakuri, identified by the Justice Department as an operative of the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, is a “key member’’ of the Muhajedeen-Khalq, Iran’s Mehr news agency reported.
The agency did not explain the group’s possible motive but left the implication that the plot was a bogus scheme meant to frame and ostracize Iran.
It said Shakuri, who is at large, had last been seen in Washington and in Camp Ashraf, the group’s enclave in Iraq.
“The person in question has been traveling to different countries under the names of Ali Shakuri/Gholam Shakuri/Gholam-Hussein Shakuri by using fake passports including forged Iranian passports,’’ Mehr said.
US officials did not immediately comment on the Mehr report. Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, reiterated the US view in a daily media briefing in Washington that “this was a serious breach of international law and that Iran needs to be held accountable.’’
The opposition group dismissed the Mehr report as nonsense.
Shahin Gobadi, a spokesman, said in an e-mail that “this is a well-known tactic that has been used by the mullahs in the past 30 years where they blame their crimes on their opposition for double gains.’’
The group, also known as the National Council of Resistance of Iran, is regarded by Iran as a violent insurgent organization with a history of assassinations and sabotage aimed at overthrowing the Islamic government that took power in 1979. While the group says it renounced violence a decade ago, it is still classified as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department, but not by Britain or the European Union. It maintains a headquarters in Paris.
Mehr said it had learned what it called the new information about Shakuri from Interpol but was not more specific.