This coming Thursday, a Belgian federal court is expected to return a verdict in the case of Assadollah Assadi, a high-ranking Iranian diplomat who was the apparent mastermind of a terrorist plot that was thwarted on European soil in 2018. Assadi was arrested in Germany a day after Belgian authorities caught two of his accomplices attempting to carry explosives into France, where the National Council of Resistance of Iran was holding its annual gathering of expatriate activists.
At the time of his arrest, Assadi was preparing to return to Vienna, Austria, where he served as the third counselor at the Iranian embassy. Throughout the two and a half years since his arrest, the Iranian regime has repeatedly tried to make the argument that Assadi should have immunity from prosecution on the basis of his diplomatic role. It is an absurd argument both because it relies on the concept of diplomatic immunity extending beyond the borders of one’s mission and because it implies that the severity of the charges should have no bearing on the application of that principle.
After it was confiscated from Assadi’s co-conspirators, the explosive device that was to be used in the 2018 plot was being handled by a police robot when it detonated. Although the area had been cleared, the bomb still managed to wound one officer as well as destroying the robot. The strength of the blast seemed to confirm in advance what affidavits in Assadi’s case would later say about the potential impact of the terrorist plot.
Attendance at the NCRI’s “Free Iran” rally was estimated at around 100,000, including hundreds of political dignitaries from throughout the world. Details of Assadi’s case indicate that he instructed the would-be bombers to place the explosives as close as possible to the VIP seating area in hopes of killing the Iranian Resistance leader Maryam Rajavi. Had they succeeded in doing so, there is little doubt that the death toll would have included high-profile lawmakers and scholars from Western nations.
Of course, it shouldn’t be necessary to point to this feature of the plot in order to motivate European policymakers to pursue broader accountability for the Iranian regime. It should be sufficient to note that that regime was prepared to kill hundreds if not thousands of innocent civilians on Western soil, all in the name of defeating an ascendant movement for Iranian democracy. But if the nations of Europe need to believe that their own security is at stake before they make a concerted effort to address the issue of Iranian terrorism, then so be it. There is ample reason for them to draw that conclusion from the Assadi case.
First of all, Belgian prosecutors have entertained no doubt about where ultimate responsibility for the terror plot lies. They have stated repeatedly that Assadi was not acting on his own initiative as a rogue agent but rather took on the task of running this operation in the name of the Iranian regime and on orders from high in the government.
Furthermore, a German investigation into Assadi’s activities has revealed that he was a major player in an Iranian espionage network that operates all across Europe. A ledger that was recovered from his vehicle showed records of cash payments to operatives in at least 11 countries, as well as lists of various points of interest such as an Islamic cultural center in Germany that has been under surveillance for suspected financing of Iran-backed terrorist groups like Hezbollah.
The existence of this network already caused alarm when it was still assumed that associated terrorist activity would take place exclusively in the Middle East or other regions outside of Europe. The 2018 terror plot suggests that whatever alarm European agencies and policymakers already felt, it was probably insufficient. Assadi’s network can no longer be assumed to be a mere collection of spies and financiers. Neither can it be assumed to be the only one of its kind. It is just as likely that other Iranian diplomatic personnel stands ready to fill the same role as Assadi, by activating terrorist sleeper cells that directly threaten the security of Western nations.
With this in mind, European governments should be prepared to use the Assadi verdict as a jumping-off point for policy changes that confront the very roots of his operation and his network. The evidence of his guilt should be presented as a case study in Iran’s long history of using terrorism as a form of statecraft, and it should lead to the revelation of existing diplomatic relations with the Iranian regime.
In the wake of that verdict, it would be prudent for nations all across Europe to shut down Iranian embassies and expel its agents and so-called diplomatic personnel and expand economic sanctions on the regime. The Iranian regime must see that Europe is serious about terrorism and the least EU can do to demonstrate this fact, is to halt ordinary relations with the Iranian regime for the foreseeable future.