An Iranian diplomat has been sentenced to 20 years in jail by a Belgian court for masterminding a bomb plot targeting a meeting of Iranian opposition exiles and their supporters near Paris in 2018.
Assadollah Assadi was involved in an elaborate cross-border terrorism plot whose intended target could have included former US president Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudolph “Rudy” Giuliani and former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The attack was foiled by the police and Assadi was arrested in July 2018 in Germany, while he was travelling back from a meeting with a Belgian couple at a Pizza Hut in Luxembourg.
Police said that Assadi handed the Belgian couple more than a pound (0.5kg) of the highly explosive compound TATP and a detonator to be used to bomb a Paris meeting of the People’s Mujahedin Organisation, an Iranian political group also known by the acronyms MEK and MKO.
Amir Saadouni and Nasimeh Naami, the Belgian-based couple who collected the explosives and transported them in the boot of their car, were also sentenced to between 15 and 18 years in prison.
Another Belgian-based accomplice named Mehrdad Erfani, whose role was to guide the couple once in Paris, was sentenced to 17 years.
Erfani was widely known among the Iranian diaspora in Belgium as a supporter of the same MEK he was tasked with attacking.
All three are also to be stripped of their Belgian citizenships.
Senior officials said they have uncovered evidence not only connecting the conspirators to each other but tying Assadi to Tehran, from where they have alleged senior intelligence and security officials masterminded the scheme.
Assadi and the Belgian couple, along with another accomplice, were being monitored by European intelligence officials and were arrested before they could carry out the attack.
Had the plot succeeded it could have been among the most devastating terror attacks on European soil in recent history.
“This would have been an attack on the democratic state of law and freedom of speech,” the judge said, according to the Belgian broadcaster VRT. “Thousands of people were present at the rally in Paris. This would have resulted in many fatalities due to the explosion but also the subsequent chaos.”
The MEK has cultivated strong ties among Washington elites opposed to the regime in Tehran. More than 30 US political and military figures attended the June 30 conference, along with European parliamentarians and local officials and Middle East dignitaries.
“We were there without knowing we were at risk,” Maltese lawmaker Mario Galea, who spoke at the event just outside Paris, told the Malta Independent. “There were many people present for this conference, as many Iranians who live in Europe attended, and children were put in peril.”
Iranian officials have alleged the entire operation was staged to make Iran look bad. Iran has repeatedly complained that Assadi’s diplomatic immunity had been violated.
But European officials have countered that as third counsellor to the embassy in Vienna he did not enjoy diplomatic protections outside of Austria.
“The ruling shows two things: a diplomat doesn’t have immunity for criminal acts … and the responsibility of the Iranian state in what could have been carnage,” prosecutor Georges-Henri Beauthier told reporters gathered outside the Antwerp courthouse where the sentencing hearing was held.
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said last year the Iranians would not recognise any ruling by the Belgian court.
“This court is not qualified, and the current legal process is not valid because of [Assadi’s] diplomatic immunity,” he said in November. “We will not recognise any sentence that may follow the proceedings. He is not guilty, and it is clear he has been the target of a plot.”
Counterterror experts say the case, along with other plots allegedly carried out by Iran in the Netherlands, Denmark, Albania, and Turkey, have suggested the existence of a deep and wide Iranian intelligence network run out of diplomatic missions throughout Europe. (Source: Independent UK)