Iran in the dock over foiled Paris attack

Iran in the dock over foiled Paris attack
Thousands of exiled Iranians gathered in Villepinte, north of Paris, to listen to the speech of Maryam Rajavi, the leader of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. (File/AP)
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Updated 25 November 2020

Iran in the dock over foiled Paris attack

Iran in the dock over foiled Paris attack
  • Conviction of the defendants, who face up to 20 years in prison, would tarnish Iran’s image
  • The rally, organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, attracted 25,000 people, including political figures

BRUSSELS: A sensitive trial with an international dimension opens in Antwerp, Belgium, on Nov. 27. Four Iranians, including Assadolah Assadi, a diplomat at the Iranian embassy in Vienna, are on trial for attempted murder, terrorism and participation in the activities of a terrorist group.

They are accused of planning, at the instigation of Iran, an bomb attack on an Iranian opposition rally in Villepinte, on the eastern outskirts of Paris on June 30, 2018.

The rally, organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, attracted 25,000 people, including political figures such as Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City, and Ingrid Betancourt, former candidate for the Colombian presidency.

On the day of the rally, Amir Saadouni and his wife Nasimeh Naami were arrested in Brussels. The couple, who live in Beveren, a small Flemish town, were on their way to Villepinte.

The police discovered an explosive device, a remote control and three cell phones, as well as €35,000 ($42,000) in cash in their belongings. They confessed to investigators that they were going there to carry out an attack on the rally of opponents of the Iranian regime.

The investigation revealed that the couple were acting on behalf of Assadolah Assadi, third secretary of the Iranian embassy in Vienna since 2014.

The diplomat was arrested the next day in a highway parking lot near Frankfurt by German police and handed over to Belgium.

According to the Belgian intelligence services, Assadi’s diplomatic activity only served as a cover for his work for “Department 312,” which is attached to the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS).

A spy rather than a diplomat, he was in charge of gathering information on Iranian opponents. He reportedly approached Amir Saadouni and Nasimeh Naami in 2012 to dig out information for him in exchange for large sums of money.

He was also said to have approached Merhad Arefani, the fourth accused in the Antwerp trial, who was arrested in Villepinte before being extradited to Belgium.

The intelligence services’ case is that the foiled attack was not a personal initiative of the defendants, but was “conceived in the name of Iran and under its leadership.”

Iran has denied any involvement, denouncing the affair as a “political machination” mounted by the Iranian opposition and accusing the Belgian and German authorities of violating diplomatic immunity in arresting Assadolah Assadi.

Aware of the ultra-sensitive nature of the case, the Belgian courts were particularly discreet throughout the investigations. This desire for discretion explains why the trial may be restricted to just two hearings, which is unprecedented in such cases.

Conviction of the defendants, who face up to 20 years in prison, would tarnish Iran’s image and may pave the way for similar cases in Denmark, Albania and Germany.


British Asian celebrities produce video to tackle coronavirus myths

 British-Asian celebrities have produced a video to dispel coronavirus myths and urge people to get a vaccine. (AFP/Screenshots/File Photos)
British-Asian celebrities have produced a video to dispel coronavirus myths and urge people to get a vaccine. (AFP/Screenshots/File Photos)
Updated 26 min 54 sec ago

British Asian celebrities produce video to tackle coronavirus myths

 British-Asian celebrities have produced a video to dispel coronavirus myths and urge people to get a vaccine. (AFP/Screenshots/File Photos)
  • Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and former Conservative Party chairman Baroness Warsi are also included in the video

LONDON: British-Asian celebrities including cricketer Moeen Ali and comedians Romesh Ranganathan and Meera Syal have produced a video to dispel coronavirus myths and urge people to get a vaccine.

The video was organized by “Citizen Khan” creator Adil Ray, who said that he wanted to tackle falsehoods surrounding vaccinations for those from ethnic minority communities.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and former Conservative Party chairman Baroness Warsi are also included in the video.

Conspiracy theories and myths about coronavirus vaccines have caused concerns about uptake, particularly in the South Asian community.

“We all just feel we needed to do something,” Ray told the BBC.

He appears in the five-minute video with celebrities like former “Coronation Street” actress Shobna Gulati, who used her space in the clip to say: “We will find our way through this. And we will be united once again with our friends and our families. All we have to do is take the vaccination.”

Comedians Sanjeev Bhaskar, Asim Chaudhry and Ranganathan were on hand to debunk common coronavirus myths.

Ranganathan joked: “There’s no chip or tracker in the vaccine to keep watching where you go. Your mobile phone actually does a much better job of that.”

A recent poll commissioned by the Royal Society of Public Health showed that just 57 percent of black, Asian and minority ethnic people (BAME) would be happy to receive a vaccine, compared with 79 percent of white Britons.

Dr. Harpreet Sood, an NHS doctor heading up an anti-discrimination effort, said fake news and myths were likely behind the worrying numbers for the BAME community.

The UK government has recently started to tackle the problem directly, with UK Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick arguing that faith leaders were crucial to vaccine uptake. His announcement came as he opened the UK’s first vaccination center in a mosque.

Jonathon Kitson, a fellow at the Adam Smith Institute, told Arab News: “Mass vaccination is the only way out of the pandemic, and it is great to see people from all backgrounds working to dispel myths, fake news and conspiracy theories like this.”

He added: “The faster the rollout can take place, the sooner we can get back to normal.”

Sam Bowman, co-founder of a new myth-dispelling website called “Anti-Virus: The COVID-19 FAQ,” told Arab News: “It is absolutely vital that everyone realizes that the vaccine is a safe, effective ticket back to normal life. It will mean that people of all ages are safe to see each other again, and go back out to work and their old lives.”

He added: “It’s great to see this video correct the misinformation being promoted — anyone pushing an unscientific anti-vaccine lie needs to be publicly contradicted and exposed as the shysters they are.”