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Iranian diplomat goes on trial in Belgium over bomb plot

Embassy of Iran (Athenchen/WikiCommons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

An Iranian diplomat and three other Iranians went on trial in the Belgian city of Antwerp on November 27 accused of planning to bomb a meeting of an exiled opposition group in France in 2018, the first time an EU country has put an Iranian official on trial for terrorism.

The trial has the potential to embarrass Iran and strain ties with European countries, which have blamed Iranian intelligence of being behind the foiled bombing, a charge the Islamic republic has furiously denied.

Belgian prosecutors charged Vienna-based diplomat Assadollah Assadi and the three others with plotting an attack on a rally of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). The rally’s keynote address was given by U.S. President Donald Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

Assadi, who was arrested while in Germany and handed over to Belgium, is refusing to appear in court and did not attend the first day of the trial. He has not commented on the charges.

“My client asked me to represent him today. He let me know he has the fullest respect for these judges but as he considers that he should benefit from immunity, they are not allowed to judge him,” his lawyer, Dimitri de Beco, told the media.

French officials have said Assadi, who was the third counsellor at the Iranian Embassy in Vienna, was in charge of intelligence in southern Europe and was acting on orders from Tehran.

Iran has repeatedly dismissed the charges, saying the allegations by the NCRI, which Tehran considers a terrorist group, are false.

Exiled Iranian Opposition Group

The NCRI is the political wing of the exiled Iranian opposition group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK), which is seeking to overthrow the Islamic republic and is designated a terrorist group by Iran.

The United States considered the MEK a terrorist group up until 2012, when it was removed following a lobbying campaign and pledges to end its violent militancy. Giuliani is among those paid by the group to lobby on its behalf.

The trial is expected to continue next week, with a possible verdict later this month or in early January, according to lawyers.

The attack was thwarted by a coordinated operation between French, German, and Belgian security services, authorities in the three countries have said.

Two of Assadi’s suspected accomplices were arrested in Belgium in possession of explosives and a detonator. Their lawyers said on November 27 that neither had any intention to kill.

Lawyers representing participants in the 2018 rally, who are a civil party to the Belgian prosecution, have argued that diplomatic immunity cannot be used as a cover to carry out a terrorist attack, which carries a maximum 20-year prison term.

France has said Iran’s Intelligence Ministry was behind the 2018 plot and it expelled an Iranian diplomat.

European countries have blamed Iran for other suspected moves against dissidents, including two killings in the Netherlands in 2015 and 2017 and a foiled assassination in Denmark. Tehran has denied involvement.