An Iranian diplomat will go on trial in Belgium today accused of plotting to bomb a 2018 Paris conference attended by five British MPs and Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
Assadollah Assadi, 48, is accused of smuggling a bomb made from ‘Mother of Satan’ explosives to Europe from Tehran in a diplomatic bag that was exempt from airport security checks ahead of the event.
Prosecutors say he then handed the bag off to accomplices who were supposed to plant it at a summit held by Iranian opposition leaders in the French capital.
Speakers at the rally included British MPs Bob Blackman, Matthew Offord, Sir David Amess, Theresa Villiers and Roger Godsiff; Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer and former New York mayor; and Bill Richardson, former US Ambassador to the UN.
Assadi, understood to be an officer in Iran’s intelligence and security ministry, is the first Iranian ambassador to face terrorism charges in Europe.
Theresa Villiers MP flanked by Bob Blackman MP (left) and Roger Godsiff MP (right) speaks as the British delegation appear on stage during the Conference In Support Of Freedom and Democracy In Iran on June 30, 2018 in Paris
Assadollah Assadi, 48, allegedly worked undercover at Iran’s embassy in Vienna. He is one of the first ever diplomats to face terror charges
Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer and former mayor of New York, also spoke at the conference, alongside Bill Richardson, former US Ambassador to the UN
Prosecutors say Assadi, 48, carried the bomb on a commercial flight from Tehran to Vienna, where he was ambassador, some time ahead of the conference which took place on June 30, 2018.
He allegedly handed the explosives to a Belgian-Iranian couple – Nassimeh Naami, 36, and Amir Saadouni, 40 – who took the bomb by car towards Paris.
However, Belgian police stopped the vehicle near Antwerp and discvoered 1lbs of TATP explosives – the same kind used in the Manchester Arena bombing – inside, along with a detonator.
The pair were arrested, while Assadi was detained later while travelling through Germany where he was not protected by diplomatic immunity.
Also on trial is Mehrdad Arefani, 57, an Iranian poet who has lived in Belgium for half a decade and is also accused of participating in the plot.
All four are charged with attempting to carry out a terrorist attack and taking part in the activity of a terrorist group, and face life sentences if convicted.
BRITISH DELEGATES: Labour MP Roger Godsiff (left) and Conservative MP Bob Blackman
The intended target of the bomb was Maryam Rajavi, the head of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, according to prosecutors.
However, speakers at the conference also risked being caught up in the blast. It is unclear exactly when or where during the event the bomb would have gone off.
At court on Friday, Assadi’s lawyer revealed the diplomat would not appear on the stand and would claim immunity from prosecution.
Ms Villiers, who spoke on Britain’s behalf at the conference, told The Sun: ‘Sending a bomb to Europe in a diplomatic bag on a commercial flight is an outrage.
‘If the court decides that is what happened it will be shocking. I feel I’ve had a lucky escape.’
According to legal documents from the two-year investigation, Belgium’s intelligence and security agency (VSSE) says Assadi operated on the orders of Tehran.
In a note to Belgium’s federal prosecutor, the agency argued that ‘the planned attack was conceived in the name of Iran and at its instigation.’
The prosecutor’s office did not comment on the case because the trial had yet to start.
On June 30, 2018, Belgian police officers tipped off about a possible attack against the MEK’s meeting in Paris stopped Saadouni and his wife’s Mercedes car.
In their luggage, they found half a kilo of the acetone peroxide explosive and a detonator.
In its report, Belgium’s bomb disposal unit said the device was of professional quality.
It could have caused a sizeable explosion and panic in the crowd, estimated at 25,000 people, that had gathered that day in the French town of Villepinte, in the Paris suburbs.
Regarded by investigators as the ‘operational commander’ of the attack, Assadi is suspected of having hired the married couple years earlier.
BRITISH DELEGATES: Tory MPs Matthew Offord (left) and Sir David Amess
TARGETED: Maryam Rajavi, the leader of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, waves to well-wishers in Villepinte, north of Paris, at the annual conference in 2014
Theresa Villiers MP speaks as the British delegation appear on stage during the Conference In Support Of Freedom and Democracy In Iran on June 30, 2018 in Paris, France. The speakers declared their support for the Iranian peoples uprising and the democratic alternative, the National Council of Resistance of Iran and called on the international community to adopt a firm policy against the regime and stand by the people of Iran
According to a VSSE note, Assadi is a spy who operated undercover at Iran’s embassy in Vienna.
Belgium’s state security officers believe he worked for the ministry’s so-called Department 312, the directorate for internal security, which is on the European Union’s list of terror organisations.
Assadi’s lawyer, Dimitri de Beco, told the Associated Press his client contests all the charges against him.
‘His defence will raise a number of procedural issues, including the question of his diplomatic immunity, since it is not disputed that he had diplomatic status, at least at the time of the facts,’ de Beco wrote in a short message, expressing his hope that the court case won’t be a ‘political trial.’
The MEK, once an armed organisation with a base in Iraq, is the most structured among exiled Iranian opposition groups, and is detested by Iranian authorities.
It was removed from EU and US terror lists several years ago after denouncing violence and getting western politicians to lobby on its behalf.
The MEK supports Trump’s hard line on Iran and backs sanctions on the country.
MEK’s leader Rajavi alleges that Assadi received direct orders from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
‘The regime’s leaders must be prosecuted and face justice,’ she said last month during a video conference with journalists.
Assadi allegedly recruited the couple – Saadouni and Naami, who were of Iranian heritage but lived in Antwerp – to obtain information about the Iranian opposition.
The fourth suspect, Arefani, is a Brussels resident suspected of travelling to Villepinte on the day of the planned attack.
Investigators found that he was in possession of a phone with Assadi’s number.
Travel records obtained by the AP show Assadi made several trips to Iran in the months leading up to the rally, returning from the last one little more than a week before the thwarted attack.
After arriving on the commercial flight to Austria, Assadi allegedly handed the bomb over to Saadouni and Naami during a meeting in a Pizza Hut restaurant in Luxembourg just two days before they were arrested.
Both have denied they were aware that the diplomat – whose code name was Daniel – had given them a bomb.
Naami said she believed the parcel contained fireworks.
Belgium’s bomb disposal unit said the acetone peroxide in the couple’s Mercedes car was primed for use.
It was ‘wrapped in plastic and concealed in the lining of a vanity case.’
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 in June, 2014
Iranians applaud Maryam Rajavi, leader of the National Council of Resistance of Iran at a rally in Villepinte, a northern suburb of Paris in June, 2009
They also found a digital remote trigger in a small bag belonging to Naami that contained feminine hygiene items.
Upon his arrest, investigators also found a red notebook in Assadi’s car with instructions on how to use the bomb.
The analysis of the suspects’ text messages and emails revealed they used code language to communicate, with ‘PlayStation 4’ the alleged name for the explosive device.
The French side of the investigation also established that Assadi visited Villepinte during the 2017 MEK rally, possibly on a reconnaissance trip.
If convicted, the four suspects face between five years and 20 years in prison on charges of ‘attempted terrorist murder and participation in the activities of a terrorist group.’
Hearings will last between two and three days and a verdict is expected be delivered by the end of next month.