Diplomat arrested in Bavaria on suspicion of aiding planned terror attack

An Iranian diplomat based in Vienna was arrested in Bavaria on Sunday evening on suspicion of carrying explosives and aiding a planned terror attack in Paris.

Diplomat arrested in Bavaria on suspicion of aiding planned terror attack
A gas station near Aschaffenburg was searched for explosives on Sunday. Photo: DPA

An Iranian diplomat was arrested in Bavaria on Sunday evening on suspicion of carrying explosives and aiding a planned terror attack in Paris.

Police stopped Assadollah S., a diplomat in Austria, and his three companions at a service station at Spessart-Süd near Aschaffenburg on suspicion of transporting explosive materials, reported Focus Online on Monday evening.

During the operation, explosives specialists from the Bavarian State Criminal Police and Bavarian riot police came to the scene, encompassing more than 20 vehicles as the A3 autobahn was shut down, said police in Unterfranken in a statement.

While local police reported that no materials were found, Assadollah S., 47, was taken into custody under warrant for international arrest, and is to be brought before an investigating judge in Bamberg for extradition to Belgium. He is thought to be a mastermind behind a planned terror attack at a gathering by an Iranian opposition group.

Part of a greater plan

S. was allegedly aiding a husband and wife team, both of whom were arrested in France on Monday over a plot to bomb a weekend rally by an exiled Iranian opposition group in Paris, where close Donald Trump ally Rudy Giuliani was in attendance.

Amir S., 38, and Nasimeh N., 33, both Belgian nationals, “are suspected of having attempted to carry out a bomb attack” on Saturday in the Paris suburb of Villepinte, during a conference organised by the People's Mujahedin of Iran, a statement from the Belgian federal prosecutor said.

The couple, described by prosecutors as being “of Iranian origin”, were carrying 500 grams of the volatile explosive TATP along with a detonation device when an elite police squad stopped them in a residential district of Brussels.

The Belgian statement confirmed that an Iranian diplomat at the Austrian embassy in Vienna, a contact for the couple, was also arrested in Germany.

In cooperation with the Belgian secret service as well as authorities in France and Germany, the public prosecutor's office in Brussels said that the terrorist attack in Paris was successfully thwarted, and that Belgium is also not in danger.

What's behind the attack

The Monday arrests of Amr S. and Nasimeh N. came on the day Iranian President Hassan Rouhani arrived in Switzerland for a trip Tehran said was of “crucial importance” for cooperation between the Islamic Republic and Europe after the US withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear agreement.

President Rouhani is also due to visit Austria, the country holding the six-monthly presidency of the EU.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Sarif expressed doubts about the reports on the planned attack. “How convenient: just as we leave for a presidential visit (Switzerland, Austria) to Europe, an alleged Iranian operation is being uncovered and two (Iranians) are being arrested,” the chief diplomat wrote on Twitter.

Yet he described the incident and its connection to Iran as dubious. Nevertheless, he said, Tehran was prepared to cooperate with the relevant authorities in solving the case.

With reporting by AFP.

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Hamburg and Vienna plummet in ‘most liveable cities’ ranking due to pandemic

Which city is the best place to live? While Hamburg and Vienna frequently topped the charts in previous years, both cities lost significant ground in an annual ranking.

Hamburg and Vienna plummet in ‘most liveable cities’ ranking due to pandemic
People go for a sunny walk in Hamburg in late May as the city began to open up after seven months of lockdown measures. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Georg Wendt

In the most recent Global Liveability Index by the British Economist group, European cities have become noticeably less attractive due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Vienna, Hamburg and other major European cities such as Prague, Athens and Rome fared significantly worse in the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) ranking than in previous years. Other German cities also made big drops, such as Frankfurt (-29) and Düsseldorf (-28).

READ MORE: Why is Vienna no longer the ‘most liveable’ city in the world?

New Zealand, Japan and Australia, on the other hand, gathered significant ground.

Vienna was top of the EIU ranking from 2018 to 2020. Now the Austrian capital has dropped to 12th place. Germany’s northern city-state of Hamburg even slipped 34 places to 47th.

Only two European cities made it into the top 10 in the rankings – Zurich (7th) and Geneva (8th) in Switzerland.

What accounts for the big drop?

For the ranking, the EIU uses criteria such as stability, health care, culture, environment, education and infrastructure.

The EIU cites the “strain on hospital systems” and the resulting “stress on healthcare” as two of the main reasons for the weak performance of German and Austrian cities this year.

The pandemic has also had a particularly strong impact on the cultural sector and general quality of life in Europe, it wrote in the report. 

Other reasons behind Hamburg and Vienna’s decline this year include restrictions on local sporting events, educational institutions and restaurants, bars and cafes.

While both Germany and Austria fared relatively well in the first wave of the pandemic, both struggled to keep case numbers down in the second and third waves. 

Germany introduced a one month “lockdown light” in November, which was continually extended and sometimes made stricter until mid-May, when states began to reopen public life again

Austria also introduced various on-and-off shutdown measures starting in October, including curfews from 8pm or even periods when no one was allowed to leave their homes for 24 hours. It also began to significantly open up again in late May.

READ ALSO: Has Austria picked the right strategy to fight the Covid-19 pandemic?

However, other factors unrelated to the pandemic also played a role in the Economist ranking. The authors of the report also looked at the quality of the road network and public transport, level of corruption and religious restrictions.

Yet Hamburg still scored high in other quality of life rankings for 2021. It was named the ‘Green City of the Year’ by the European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies. 

A full 45 percent of the harbourside city is devoted to parks and forests, said the centre, who also awarded it extra points for using sustainable construction materials and creating ‘green jobs’.

Every year from 2009 to 2019, Mercer’s Quality of Living survey named Vienna as the best place to live in the entire world.

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It’s rationale was similar to that of the EIU: The city’s infrastructure, public transport network, clean water supply, healthcare and – last but not least – cultural and leisure activities helped it play a leading role in the worldwide ranking. 

So where are the ‘most livable cities’ now?

The title of “most livable city in the world” this year went to the New Zealand port city of Auckland. The EIU explained its selection by citing its success in containing the pandemic as a key factor. 

“New Zealand’s tough lockdown subsequently enabled rapid relaxations and allowed citizens of cities like Auckland and Wellington to live almost as they did before the pandemic,” the report read.

The biggest improvement in the ranking was achieved by the capital of the U.S. Pacific island and state of Hawaii: Honolulu got the spread of the coronavirus under control particularly quickly and therefore climbed 46 places in the ranking to 14th place.

The Syrian capital Damascus, on the other hand, remains the city where life is most difficult due to the ongoing civil war, according to the study.