Iran Detains Leader of California-Based Exile Group

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Tehran, Iran (AP) — Iran on Saturday said it had detained a leader of a little-known California-based opposition group for allegedly planning a 2008 attack on a mosque that killed 14 people and wounded over 200 others.

Iran’s Intelligence Ministry also alleged Jamshid Sharmahd of the Kingdom Assembly of Iran planned other attacks around the Islamic Republic amid heightened tensions between Tehran and the U.S. over its collapsing 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

It remains unclear how Sharmahd, whom Iran accused of running the opposition group’s Tondar militant wing, ended up detained by intelligence officials. Requests for comment sent by email to the Glendora-based Kingdom Assembly of Iran were not immediately answered and a telephone number for the group no longer worked.

Iranian state television broadcast a report on Sharmahd’s arrest, linking him to the 2008 bombing of the Hosseynieh Seyed al-Shohada Mosque in Shiraz. It also said his group was behind a 2010 bombing at Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s mausoleum in Tehran that wounded several people.

The report also alleged without providing evidence that Tondar, or “Thunder” in Farsi, also plotted attacks on a dam and planned to use cyanide bombs at Tehran’s annual book fair.

The Kingdom Assembly of Iran, known in Farsi as Anjoman-e Padeshahi-e Iran, and Tondar seek to restore Iran’s monarchy, which ended when the fatally ill Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi fled the country in 1979 just before its Islamic Revolution. The group’s founder disappeared in the mid-2000s.

Authorities did not elaborate on how they apprehended Sharmahd, though Iranian intelligence operatives in the past have used family members and other tricks to lure targets back to Iran or friendly countries to be captured. An alleged Iranian government operative who allegedly tried to hire a hitman to kill Sharmahd disappeared in 2010 before facing trial in California, likely having returned to Iran.

While overshadowed by other exiled opposition groups, Iran reportedly brought up the Kingdom Assembly multiple times while negotiating the terms of the 2015 deal, which saw Tehran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

A statement attributed to Tondar claimed the assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist in 2010 by a remote-control bomb, though it later said it wasn’t responsible. Suspicion long has fallen on Israel for a string of assassinations targeting scientists amid concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, which the West fears could be used to develop a nuclear bomb. Iran long has maintained its program is for peaceful purposes.

Sharmahd’s reported arrest comes as tensions remain inflamed by President Donald Trump’s 2018 decision to unilaterally withdraw America from the nuclear deal. A series of incidents last year were capped by a U.S. drone strike in January killing a top Iranian general in Baghdad. Iran responded by launching a ballistic missile attack on U.S. soldiers in Iraq that injured dozens.

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Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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