Iranian diplomat warned of retaliation over Belgian bomb plot trial

Iranian diplomat warned of retaliation over Belgian bomb plot trial
Belgian prosecutors charged Vienna-based Assadolah Assadi in Oct. 2018 and three others with planning an attack that year on a rally of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 09 October 2020

Iranian diplomat warned of retaliation over Belgian bomb plot trial

Iranian diplomat warned of retaliation over Belgian bomb plot trial
  • Belgian prosecutors charged Vienna-based Assadolah Assadi in Oct. 2018 and three others with planning an attack
  • Assadi, who goes on trial on Nov. 27, was the third counsellor at Iran's embassy in Austrian capital

PARIS: An Iranian diplomat charged in Belgium with planning to bomb a meeting of an exiled Iranian opposition group in France warned authorities of possible retaliation by unidentified groups if he is found guilty, according to a police document.
Belgian prosecutors charged Vienna-based Assadolah Assadi in Oct. 2018 and three others with planning an attack that year on a rally of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) attended by high profile former US, European and Arab officials.
Assadi, who goes on trial on Nov. 27, was the third counsellor at Iran's embassy in Vienna. French officials have said he was in charge of intelligence in southern Europe and was acting on orders from Tehran.
He is one of the first Iranian diplomats to face trial on terrorism charges in the European Union.
Tehran has repeatedly dismissed the charges against Assadi, calling them a "false flag" operation by the NCRI's political arm, the MEK, (Mujaheedin-e Khalq), which presents itself as an alternative to Iran's theocracy. Assadi has not commented on the charges and his lawyer has declined to comment on them.
Minutes of a March 12 meeting between Assadi and Belgian police, seen by Reuters and confirmed as authentic by his lawyer, show the diplomat initially set out Tehran's long-standing grievances with the MEK's activities in the past.
He then warned Belgian authorities that his case was being closely watched by undisclosed groups in Iran and neighbouring countries.
"According to ASSADI Assadolah we (Belgium) do not realize what is going to happen, in the event of an unfavourable verdict," the minutes, taken by the Belgian police, say.
Assadi told police that armed groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Syria, as well as in Iran, were interested in the outcome of his case and would be "watching from the sidelines to see if Belgium would support them or not", according to the minutes.
He declined to answer when asked by police if any kind of organization was involved.
Asked about Assadi's comments, a spokesman for the Belgian federal prosecutor said: "Such threats can occur, but we always take the necessary security measures." The spokesman declined to comment further or say whether intelligence services had been informed of Assadi's statement.
Assadi said he was making the statement at his own behest and had not discussed it beforehand with the Iranian embassy, according to the record of his 31-minute encounter with police. The embassy could not immediately be reached for comment.
Assadollah's lawyer, Dimitri de Beco, denied his client was making threats.
"It is absolutely not a threat of retaliation and if it's understood that way it's a misinterpretation," he told Reuters. "He will explain the sense of his remarks to the court."
Tehran accuses European states of harbouring the MEK, which it deems a terrorist organisation. The group had been based in the Iraqi capital Baghdad under former president Saddam Hussein and was on the U.S. State Department's terror list from 1997 to 2012 when it was taken off it renounced violence.
A co-ordinated intelligence operation between French, German and Belgian services thwarted the planned attack in the days prior to the NCRI rally, in which the keynote speech was given by U.S. President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
Assadi was arrested while on holiday in Germany and handed over to Belgium, where two of his suspected accomplices had been arrested with 500 grams (one lb) of TATP, an explosive, as well as a detonation device.
France said Iran's intelligence ministry was behind the plot and expelled an Iranian diplomat, while the European Union froze the assets of an Iranian intelligence unit and two of its staff.


President-elect Biden: Last thing Middle East needs is Iran with nuclear weapon

Updated 24 sec ago

President-elect Biden: Last thing Middle East needs is Iran with nuclear weapon

President-elect Biden: Last thing Middle East needs is Iran with nuclear weapon
  • Said Tehran would have to agree to new demands if return to deal was possible
  • Added Tehran must address its “malign” regional activities through proxies

LONDON: US President-elect Joe Biden said he is against Iran gaining a nuclear weapon, adding it is the “last thing” the Middle East region needs, in an interview with the New York Times on Wednesday.

Biden also said that his administration would seek to extend the duration of “restrictions on Iran’s production of fissile material that could be used to make a (nuclear) bomb” in any new negotiations on a nuclear deal.

He added that Tehran would have to agree to new demands if a return to a deal was possible and that it must address its “malign” regional activities through proxies in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

Incumbent President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) deal struck in 2018 and reimposed strong sanctions on Iran as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign against the Islamic republic.

Biden, who defeated Trump at the ballot box last month, said during campaigning that he did not support the lifting of sanctions but intended to offer Iran a “credible path back to diplomacy.”

However, in the NYT interview published on Wednesday, he admitted that getting Iran to agree to a modified deal would be “hard.”

“Look, there’s a lot of talk about precision missiles and all range of other things that are destabilizing the region,” Biden was quoted as saying.

“The best way to achieve getting some stability in the region” was to deal “with the nuclear program,” he added.

The president-elect warned that if Iran acquired a bomb, it would spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, and that “the last . . . thing we need in that part of the world is a buildup of nuclear capability,” he added.

“In consultation with our allies and partners, we’re going to engage in negotiations and follow-on agreements to tighten and lengthen Iran’s nuclear constraints, as well as address the missile program,” he told the Times.

Biden was cited as saying that the US always had the option to snap back sanctions if needed, and that Iran knew that.

The JCPOA had given Iran relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

* With AFP