Iranian diplomat convicted of planning attack on opposition

ANTWERP, BELGIUM (AP) — An Iranian official yesterday was convicted of masterminding a thwarted bomb attack against an exiled Iranian opposition group in France in 2018 and sentenced to 20 years in prison by a Belgian court that rejected his claim of diplomatic immunity.

Assadollah Assadi, a Vienna-based diplomat detained in Belgium, refused to testify during his trial last year, invoking his diplomatic status. He did not attend yesterday’s hearing at the Antwerp courthouse.

Prosecutors had requested the maximum prison sentence of 20 years on charges of attempted terrorist murder and participation in the activities of a terrorist group. Assadi contested all the charges against him.

Three other defendants also received jail sentences.

During the trial, lawyers for the plaintiffs and representatives of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq opposition group (MEK), claimed without offering evidence that the diplomat set up the attack on direct orders from Iran’s highest authorities. Tehran has denied having a hand in the plot.

Assadi’s conviction comes at a critical time and has the potential to embarrass his country as United States (US) President Joe Biden’s administration weighs whether to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers. Iran also said last month it expects Washington to lift economic sanctions that former US President Donald Trump imposed on the country after pulling America out of the atomic deal in 2018.

On June 30, 2018, Belgian police officers tipped off by intelligence services about a possible attack against the annual meeting of the MEK, stopped a couple travelling in a Mercedes car. In their luggage, they found 550 grammes of the unstable TATP explosive and a detonator.