Belgian court jails Iranian diplomat for 20 years over bomb plot

The Iranian diplomat was accused of plotting a thwarted 2018 bombing of an opposition rally outside the French capital, Paris.

Heavily armed policemen patrol outside the court in Antwerp [Virginia Mayo/AP Photo]

A Belgian court has convicted an Iranian diplomat for plotting a thwarted 2018 bombing of an exiled opposition group outside the French capital, Paris, and ordered him jailed for 20 years.

Belgian prosecution lawyers and civil parties to the prosecution on Thursday said the Vienna-based diplomat, Assadolah Assadi, was guilty of attempted “terrorism” after a plot to bomb a rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) in June 2018 was foiled by German, French and Belgian police.

“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,” Belgian prosecution lawyer Georges-Henri Beauthier told reporters outside the court in Antwerp.

The ruling marked the first trial of an Iranian official for suspected “terrorism” in the European Union since Iran’s revolution in 1979.

The court sentenced Assadi to 20 years in prison on Thursday in the first trial of an Iranian official for suspected terrorism in Europe since Iran’s 1979 revolution.

Iran’s foreign ministry “strongly condemned” the ruling, repeating its previous stance that it believes Assadi’s arrest and prosecution are illegal and violate the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

Saeed Khatibzadeh, the foreign ministry’s spokesman, said Belgium and other European countries involved in the case have been influenced by the MEK.

“Therefore they must be accountable about the egregious violation of our diplomat’s rights, including the inhumane conditions Mr. Assadi faced during his incarceration in Germany and Belgium,” he said in a statement.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran reserves the right to employ all possible legal and diplomatic means to protect Mr. Assadi’s rights and hold accountable the governments that have violated their international commitments.”

Assadi, now 49, was attached to the Iranian mission in Austria when he supplied explosives for the planned attack. He was arrested in Germany, where he did not have diplomatic immunity.

Lawyers George Henri Beauthier, right, and Rik Vanreusel, centre, representing the National Council of Resistance of Iran, speak to the media at the court in Antwerp [Virginia Mayo/AP]

Three accomplices were given jail terms and were stripped of their Belgian citizenship.

Belgian-Iranian couple Nasimeh Naami, 36, and Amir Saadouni, 40, accepted from Assadi half a kilogramme (one pound) of TATP explosives and a detonator.

Naami received an 18-year sentence and Saadouni 15 years.

Belgium-based Iranian poet Mehrdad Arefani was an accomplice of Assadi’s who had been due to guide the couple at the rally. He was jailed for 17 years.

‘Terrorism as statecraft’

The June 30, 2018 gathering in Villepinte, near Paris, included senior leaders of the exiled NCRI, which was formed with the aim of regime change in Iran. The group counts Mujahedin-e-Khalq, or MEK, as a key member.

Tehran says European states harbour MEK, which it deems a “terrorist” organisation. The group was on the United States’s “terrorism list” from 1997 to 2012, but its rallies in recent years have been headlined by the likes of former US President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani and former US National Security Advisor John Bolton.

Reporters and members of the public were not allowed into the courtroom, which was heavily guarded by police and armoured vehicles, with police helicopters overhead.

“It was established that the Iranian regime uses terrorism as statecraft and the highest levels of the Iranian regime are involved,” Shahin Gobadi, a Paris-based spokesman for the opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, which is part of the NCRI, said outside the court.

One of the defence lawyers said he would recommend an appeal, although it was not clear if Assadi would do so.

Iran has denied involvement in the foiled plot, calling such a claim a “shallow fabrication”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies