Belgian conviction of Iran diplomat for bomb plot is a milestone

Iran’s use of diplomats to plan terror attacks is very unusual – most countries do not use diplomats to plan terror attacks.

Police officers stand guard before a trial of Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi, charged in Belgium with planning to bomb a meeting of an exiled Iranian opposition group in France, at the entrance to the court building in Antwerp, Belgium November 27, 2020. (photo credit: JOHANNA GERON/REUTERS)
Police officers stand guard before a trial of Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi, charged in Belgium with planning to bomb a meeting of an exiled Iranian opposition group in France, at the entrance to the court building in Antwerp, Belgium November 27, 2020.
(photo credit: JOHANNA GERON/REUTERS)
An Iranian diplomat stationed in Iran’s Vienna embassy has been given a 20-year prison sentence in Belgium for supporting a bomb plot against a major French opposition event. Three other Iranian defendants were sentenced to long prison terms.
 For many years, Iran has used diplomatic cover to hatch plots in support of kidnapping, terror and assassinations. But European countries often did not convict or refused to pursue Iranian intelligence networks to avoid diplomatic repercussions or worse. This ruling could be a turning point.
Iran has become more brazen in recent years, spreading terror across the continent through networks operating from Scandinavia to Austria and through the Low Countries to France. 
Other Iranian diplomats have been charged after joint operations by German, French and Belgian police, according to reports. “The ruling shows two things: [that] a diplomat doesn’t have immunity for criminal acts... and the responsibility of the Iranian state in what could have been carnage,” prosecution lawyer Georges-Henri Beauthier told Reuters outside the court.
According to the Iranian Tasnim news agency, “a Belgian court sentenced our country’s diplomat Assadollah Assadi to 20 years in prison for allegedly attempting to bomb a gathering of a terrorist group of hypocrites in Paris. Earlier, our Foreign Ministry considered the detention of Assadollah Assadi a complete violation of international conventions. The other defendants in the case were Nasimeh Naami sentenced to 18 years, Amir Saadouni to 15 years and Mehrdad Arefani to 17 years in prison.”
Toby Dershowitz, who tracks Iranian terrorism abroad at the nonpartisan Washington-based think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said this case is not an aberration but part of a pattern of the Islamic Republic’s terrorism in Europe and around the world.
“Iran has once again used not just the local population to engage in terrorism, but its own diplomats to execute its horrific attacks,” she explained. “It was not that long ago when European countries broke diplomatic relations with Iran following the 1997 verdict that conclusively found Iranian operatives assassinated four Iranian Kurdish dissidents at the Mykonos Greek restaurant in Berlin. A German court directly implicated the regime in Tehran for the murders, and maintains a warrant for the arrest of then-minister of intelligence Ali Fallahian. It should do the same today.”
Dershowitz noted that Iranian government officials’ denials of their role as masterminds in this case shows that they will use any tactic to threaten those who challenge the regime. “The message... is that it’s just not safe to transact business with Iran while Tehran uses its diplomats and proxies to engage in criminal activity abroad.”
In 2018, Germany charged Assadi “with working as a foreign spy and for conspiracy to commit murder in connection with an alleged bomb plot against a meeting of Iranian exiles in France,” said the German TV company Deutsche Welle.
Belgian police issued a European arrest warrant against him after finding explosives in a car that was to be used in an attack. “Prosecutors said Assadi... is a member of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security, which is tasked with monitoring domestic and foreign opposition groups,” Deutsche Welle reported.
The ruling in Europe could be a severe setback for the Iranian regime at a time when it is attempting to refurbish its image in the West following the accession of the Biden administration in Washington.