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French Minister Says He Wanted Iranians Expelled, Won’t Say Why

January 12, 1994 GMT

PARIS (AP) _ France’s interior minister hinted Tuesday that two Iranians wanted by Switzerland in the slaying of an Iranian dissident were repatriated to protect French citizens at home and abroad.

But Interior Minister Charles Pasqua, while revealing that he was behind the decision, refused to directly justify the Dec. 29 repatriation.

His comments were the most extensive on the matter by a French government official since France revealed the expulsions a day after Mohsen Sharif Esfahani, 37, and Ahmed Taheri, 32, left for Tehran.

Esfahani and Taheri remain prime suspects in the 1990 assassination near Geneva of Kazem Rajavi. The victim was the brother of Massoud Rajavi, leader of the Mujahedeen Khalq, the armed Iranian opposition group based in Iraq.

The government vaguely cited ″national interests″ in refusing a Swiss extradition request, which a French court had already approved.

Pasqua said he apprised Prime Minister Edouard Balladur of the security situation - not further explained - and Balladur decided to expel the two to Iran.

Pasqua said it was his duty ″to be concerned with both threats regarding internal security and that which could happen elsewhere.″

He refused to say if such threats might concern French citizens in Algeria, where two Frenchmen have been killed and three kidnapped by Islamic radicals.

Pasqua also refused to say if France won assurances that it might be spared terrorist attacks because of the repatriation.

Switzerland says it is not satisfied with French handling of the matter and that the expulsions weaken the fight against terrorism.

The U.S. State Department said last week it was seeking clarification from France. ″The United States believes that the rule of law should be applied to terrorists,″ a statement said.

On Monday, the New York-based human rights organization Middle East Watch called the French decision a ″serious setback for the rule of law″ which increases the risk of attacks on other Iranian dissidents.

An Iranian newspaper, meanwhile, said in an editorial that a Sunday gunfire attack on the British Embassy in Tehran was an attempt by Mujahedeen Khalq rebels to undermine Iran’s efforts at better ties with Europe.

No one was hurt in the attack, the British Foreign office said.

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The English-language Tehran Times newspaper generally reflects the foreign policy of President Hashemi Rafsanjani. A preview of Wednesday’s editorial was obtained by The Associated Press in Nicosia, Cyprus.

Mujahedeen spokesman Sarzin Hashemi said in Paris he had no knowledge of the attack but called the allegations ″absolutely ridiculous ... lies.″

The newspaper also said the attack was ″undoubtedly″ linked to Nov. 9 grenade attacks in Tehran on the French Embassy and an Air France office, in which one airline employee was hurt.

Hezbollah of Southern Iran, a cover name for various extremist Iranian groups, at the time claimed responsibility for the attacks on French targets.