Belgium: Iran diplomat receives 20-year prison term for terrorism

An Iranian diplomat suspected of leading a failed state-sponsored bomb attack in Europe has received a 20-year prison sentence in Belgium.

Assadollah Assadi, 48, faced trial in Antwerp, Belgium, last week, alongside three other Iranians over his involvement in a 2018 plot against an exiled opposition group in France.

The trial, which started on Friday, was the first time a European Union (EU) state has charged an Iranian official with terrorism offences.

Assadi allegedly brought nearly half a kilogramme of explosives into Belgium on a commercial flight from Iran to Vienna in June 2018, the New York Times reported.

The 48-year-old then drove, in a rental car, to Luxembourg, where he handed the substance over to an Iranian-Belgian couple.

The couple, Amir Saadouni, 40, and his wife, Nassimeh Naami, 36, were arrested two days later, on the day of the convention, while they were driving to Paris.

Assadi was arrested in Germany, on his drive back to Vienna. A fourth man, Mehrdad Arefani, 57, was arrested on suspicion of being Assadi’s accomplice.

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Belgium’s court spokesperson announced the verdict saying: “For the Iranian diplomat suspect in this case, a 20-year prison term. For the couple found in possession of the bomb, an 18-year prison term, and for the fourth suspect, a 15-year prison term. For these last three suspects, the federal prosecutor requested also the withdrawal of their Belgian nationality.”

Tehran has dismissed the trial, calling allegations of a state-sponsored attack a “false flag” stunt by the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran, which was the alleged target of the plot.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also claimed the allegations were designed to embarrass Iran just before President travelled to Europe to rally support for the 2015 nuclear deal.

However, Jaak Raes, head of Belgium’s state security service (VSSE), told prosecutors: “The attack plan was conceived in the name of Iran and under its leadership. It was not a personal initiative by Assadi.”5

The 2018 plot targeted the annual convention of the NCRI,where US President ’s lawyer, Rudy Guiliani, was set to deliver the keynote address.

The primary target of the bomb attack, prosecutors believe,was Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the NCRI, who advocates revolution in Iran.

The 2018 convention was also attended by several high-profile names, including the former Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper, the former director of the FBI, Louis Freeh and the former US speaker of the house, Newt Gingrich.

Authorities said the attack was thwarted by a coordinated operation by French, German and Belgian security services.

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