Since 2015, 246 people have been killed in France in a wave of jihadi terrorism. While Salafi terrorists were responsible for many of these attacks, Shi’a Islamists were involved as well, some notable instances of which link directly back to Iran. For example, in June 2018, two civilians planning on attacking a prominent Iranian opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), in Villepinte, Paris were arrested in Brussels with 500 grams of explosives, which they later admitted was provided to them by Assadollah Assadi, a diplomat at the Iranian embassy in Vienna. In February 2021, a Belgian court convicted Assadi of planning the attack and sentenced him to twenty years in prison. The Iranian regime later denied its involvement, calling the bomb plot an NCRI “false flag” operation. Iran told France’s ambassador that it “strongly protested against the French support of activities of the [NCRI] terrorist organization.” The French ministry denied this allegation.
The French government has begun to address the threat of Shi’a terrorism emanating from Iran-linked cultural institutions in France within a framework of diminishing the influence of extreme ideologies. Since Iranian propaganda is revolutionary in nature, it poses a threat to the French government and its citizens. Therefore, the French government has adopted a number of measures to crack-down on and in some cases shutter the organizations responsible for spreading revolutionary ideas and inspiring acts of violence in their name. For example, French authorities raided and shuttered the Zahra Center for its connection to radical Islamic terrorism. France may also be watching other institutions, such as the Al-Ghadir Association and the Imam Khoei Foundation, for similar activity owing to their connection with Iran, notwithstanding the latter’s privileges at the UN, or its benign claim to be defending multiculturalism and promoting the integration of Muslims into society.
Zahra Center: Founded in northern France in the town of Grande-Synthe in 2009 by Yahia Gouasmi, Sheikh Jamel Tahiri, and Khalid Abdelkrim, the Zahra Center and its affiliated associations—the Shi’a Federation of France and Tele France Marianne—aims to disseminate the message of Islam as it was interpreted by Khomeini through various mediums. Gousami was born in Algeria, studied religion in Lebanon, and formed an anti-Zionist party in France. He makes no attempt to hide his connections with the Iranian regime; he speaks out in support of Lebanese Hezbollah and Khomeini’s doctrine.
In 2018, on the same day French authorities announced they were seizing assets belonging to Iran’s intelligence service and two Iranian nationals in connection with the 2018 Paris bomb plot, 200 French police officers conducted a pre-dawn raid on the headquarters of the Zahra Center as part of an effort to prevent radical Islamic terrorism. The officers acted on intelligence that the organization was providing logistics support for Iranian-backed terrorism across the European continent. They discovered a cache of illegal weapons, and 11 members were arrested in connection with Iranian terror cells. The coincidence of the announcement and the raid seemed to indicate that the Zahra Center was involved in the bomb plot, and multiple reports indeed confirm that this was the case. The Alma Research and Education Center details the Zahra center’s connection to the attack; while the International Institute for Counterterrorism notes that the French authorities confirmed that the raid was connected with the bomb plot. Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, helped foil the plot working with Germany, France, and Belgium. In 2019, France shut the center down because of its support for armed jihadism and Hezbollah. Ahlul Bayt News Agency expressed its opposition to the French government’s decision to close down the center, along with others used for the purpose of radicalizing the Shi’a population. Nevertheless, its directors continued to disseminate propaganda on social media. Gousami, for example, received 80000 views for a single video on YouTube. Then in September 2020, French authorities arrested him, along with other ex-directors of the shuttered organization, for continuing to direct its operations.
The Association Al-Ghadir (AAG): AAG has the attention and ideological backing of high-ranking clerics within the Shi’a sect, including Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, one of the most widely emulated figures in Iraq. Sistani adheres to a different interpretation of the Quran than Khomeini did—he believes that Shi’a clerics should not be heavily involved in political affairs; whereas Khomeini proposed the doctrine of velayat e-faqih, wherein one cleric, vested with all religious and political authority, rules over the state. But Sistani’s representative, Jawad Al-Sharistani, reportedly maintains close ties with both Hezbollah and Iran. He traveled to Paris in 2016 to meet with faculty and students of the schools associated with AAG.