Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi jailed for 20 years over attempted Paris bomb attack

An Iranian who claimed diplomatic immunity from prosecution has been sentenced to 20 years in prison by a Belgian court for an attempted bomb attack in Paris in 2018.

A court in Antwerp convicted Assadollah Assadi of attempted terrorist murder and participation in the activities of a terrorist group.

Assadi contested all the charges against him and has claimed diplomatic status. He did not attend the hearing today. His lawyer, Dimitri De Beco, said he was likely to appeal.

Assadi’s conviction comes at a critical time and has the potential to embarrass his country as the Biden administration weighs whether to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers. Iran also said last month it expected Washington to lift economic sanctions that Donald Trump imposed on the country after pulling America out of the deal in 2018.

On June 30, 2018, Belgian police officers, tipped off by intelligence services about a possible attack against the annual meeting of an Iranian opposition group, stopped a couple traveling in a Mercedes car. In their luggage, they found 550 grams of the unstable TATP explosive and a detonator.

Belgium’s bomb disposal unit said that the device was of professional quality. It could have caused a sizeable explosion and panic in the crowd, estimated at 25,000 people, that had gathered that day in the French town of Villepinte, in the north of Paris.

Prosecutors said that Assadi was the operational commander of the attack and accused him of recruiting the couple, Amir Saadouni and Nasimeh Naami, years beforehand to obtain information about the opposition. Both were of Iranian heritage.

Three other defendants were also found guilty and received lengthy jail sentences after the court ruled that they belonged to the same network. Saadouni and Naami were sentenced to 15 years and 18 years in jail respectively.

During the trial, lawyers for the plaintiffs and representatives of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq opposition group (MEK) claimed without offering evidence that the diplomat set up the attack on direct orders from Iran’s highest authorities. Tehran has denied having a hand in the plot.

In its ruling, the court made clear that Iran was not on trial, but insisted that the quartet of defendants were members of a cell operating for Iran’s intelligence services gathering information about the opposition group to identify targets and set up an attack.

Among dozens of prominent guests at the opposition rally that day were Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani; Newt Gingrich, the former conservative speaker of the US House of Representatives; and the former Colombian presidential candidate Íngrid Betancourt. Five British MPs were also there: the Tories Bob Blackman, Matthew Offord, Theresa Villiers and Sir David Amess, and Labour’s Roger Godsiff.

Assadi was arrested a day later in Germany and transferred to Belgium. The court said that since Assadi was on holiday at the time of his arrest and not in Austria, where he was accredited, he was not entitled to immunity.

A note from Belgiums intelligence and security agency identified him as an officer of Irans intelligence and security ministry who operated under cover at Iran’s embassy in Vienna. Belgium’s state security officers said he worked for the ministry’s so-called Department 312, the directorate for internal security, which is on the European Union’s list of organisations regarded as terrorist.

According to the investigation, Assadi carried the explosives to Austria on a commercial flight from Iran and later handed the bomb over to the pair during a meeting at a Pizza Hut restaurant in Luxembourg. The ruling confirmed that the explosives were made and tested in Iran.

The fourth defendant, Mehrdad Arefani, was sentenced to 17 years in prison.

Copyright 2017 Content TiNYg RWT All rights reserved.

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