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.