French police said today they have captured two more members of the assassination squad that tried yesterday to kill Shahpur Bakhtiar, Iran's prime minister before the Islamic revolutionaries came to power.
The police said that with the latest capture, plus the three gunmen who actually attacked Bakhtiar's apartment, they had rounded up the entire terrorist team involved in the assassination attempt. A police officer and a next-door neighbor were killed in the attack, and a second police officer is in critical condition with a head wound.
Relations between France and Iran's revolutionary government, which had remained relatively good, now seem bound to deteriorate. Iranian Foreign Minister Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, who had lived as a political exile in France for years, denounced his former host as "a land of subversive plotting against Iran."
While Ghotbzadeh said he rejected violent methods and claimed that the attempt against Bakhtiar was the work of rival exile groups, the organ of the ruling Islamic Republican Party in Tehran defended the action. The paper Islamic Republic, controlled by party chief Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti, accused French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing of having helped Bakhtiar in the alleged coup plot uncovered in Tehran July 10.
A previously unknown group called the Guardians of Islam continued to claim responsibility in Tehran for the operation and threatened to start attacking French interests throughout the Middle East if their five comrades are not released and Bakhtiar is not expelled from France.
Another effect of the attempt against Bakhtiar may be to raise his prestige as a symmbol of the resistance to the Islamic revolutionary government. His claims to leadership of the opposition exile community were heavily contested, especially by those with connections to the former government of the outsted shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
Bakhtiar said today that the attempt demonstrates "the growing fear of the clique in power in Iran confronted with an explosive internal situation and with the growing popularity of Shahpour Bakhtiar." He said he symbolizes "the struggle for freedom" and the "resistance against obscurantism and barbarism."
"Such acts," he said, speaking of himself in the third person like his self-proclaimed model, Charlels de Gaulle, "far from frightening Shahpour Bakhtiar, only serve the reinforce his determination to assume until it is finished the task the Iranian people want him to accomplish."
It was not clear how police learned of the whereabouts of the other two men said to have served as lookouts during the assassination attempt. But they were found in two apartments in the Latin Quarter of Paris and reportedly told police where they had thrown their weapons in the Seine River. Police frogmen reportedly recovered the guns and munitions.
Police identified the five as two Palestinians, two Lebanese and an Iranian. Four are between 20 and 23 years old. The fifth man, identified as Anis Naccache, 29, a Lebanese, was apparently the leader. Captured in the shootout, he originally was described by police sources as being a prominent Palestinian leader who uses the name Abu Mazem.
Al Fatah, the Palestinian organization Abu Mazem represents in Damascus, denied this and offered to present him in the Syrian capital. French police said the confusion came because the arrested man uses the same cover name and belongs to a Palestinian intelligence service. There was one report that he had been stationed in Tehran.
There was confusion here over why the Palestinians would have conducted such an operation on behalf of Iranian revolutionary interests, since the relations between the Iranian government and the Palestinians had been steadily deteriorating.
Ghotbzadeh, who originally stopped here yesterday to change planes on his way to ceremonies for the anniversary of the Nicaraguan revolution, decided instead to return home. He and Iran's President Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr are among Iranian government leaders under attack from Ayatollah Beheshti's followers as allies of "European imperialism."
Ghotbzadeh had been one of the leading advocates of seeking close ties with Western Europe as an alternative to the United States and the Soviet Union. But the capture of the U.S. Embassy staff as hostages has compelled the West Europeans to express solidarity with the United States. The situation following the assassination attempt here suggests that it may become harder than ever for Iran to turn to Western Europe.
French editorials were almost universal in their outcry that this was a strange way for Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to repay the political exile he was afforded in France. The Paris newspaper France-Soir expressed a generally voiced fear: "Is Paris, the capital of Iran in exile, going to become a center for the settling of accounts between the Tehran regime and its opponents?"
But Ghotbzadeh said he opposed the attempt on Bakhtiar because "our problem isn't with Mr. Bakhtiar or a few generals here or there, but with American plotting. If there were no Mr. Bakhtiar, the Americans would find someone else." Despite the attempted downgrading of Bakhtiar in that statement, Ghotbzadeh apparently considers him the leader of the external opposition.