It was reported on Wednesday that the Iran regime’s diplomat-terrorist Assadollah Assadi would not be pursuing an appeal to the conviction that was handed down in February at the conclusion of a Belgian court case stemming from a 2018 bomb plot. On July 1 of that year, Assadi was arrested in Germany after being identified as the plot’s mastermind to set off explosives at a gathering of the Iranian Resistance and outside of Paris. Following a two-year investigation and roughly two months of legal proceedings, the former third counsellor at the regime’s embassy in Vienna was sentenced to 20 years in prison on the charge of plotting to commit terrorist murder. Three co-conspirators received sentences ranging from 15 to 18 years.
In declining his appeal, the regime is effectively acknowledging his guilt. But the regime may also be hoping to avoid any increase in international attention to his case and the regime’s terrorism in general. This hope is certainly shared by the former diplomat’s handlers in Tehran, who loudly protested his prosecution and insisted upon unfettered immunity, but ultimately did not dispute the facts of the case.
Those facts include an account of Assadi’s movements after obtaining explosives from Iran, which he smuggled into Europe using a commercial flight and a diplomatic bag, then handed off to two would-be bombers at a meeting in Luxembourg. As well as being sentenced to prison terms, Assadi’s operatives have been stripped of their Belgian citizenship. The conviction of these terrorists also suggested that the regime had a network of terrorism and espionage in Europe.
However, Belgian investigators and prosecutors acknowledged the existence of that network, who made a point of stating that Assadi was not acting upon his own initiative but had been directed by the Iranian regime’s authorities to carry out his terrorist plot. The National Council of Resistance of Iran specifically had revealed a decision by the regime’s Supreme National Security Council, a body that coordinates paramilitary and foreign policy activities among the legislature, the judiciary, the presidential administration, and the office of the supreme leader.
Just last week, the regime’s President Hassan Rouhani, ostensibly the so-called “moderate” president of the mullahs’ regime, praised the SNSC as part of an “exact system and framework” that makes sure none of the regime’s leading figures are excluded from strategic planning where foreign policy is concerned. His remarks were apparently intended to mitigate the regime’s factional feuds that had intensified due to a leaked interview in which the regime’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif seemed to criticize figures like the regime’s eliminated terror-mastermind Qassem Soleimani for overshadowing the Foreign Ministry and its diplomatic work.
Zarif himself clarified the leaked comments on Sunday and reaffirmed his devotion to the supreme leader’s will and the regime’s ideology that underpins his rule. “Your comments are the final say on all matters for my colleagues and me,” the foreign minister said in a post on Instagram, addressing Khamenei directly. “As an expert in foreign relations, I always believe that it should be managed and guided by the superior.”
That statement closely comports with various other remarks Zarif has made, with varying levels of publicity, over the years. In 2019, he was invited to visit the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps headquarters and used the opportunity to comment upon his relationship with Soleimani, then the head of IRGC’s foreign special operations division, the Quds Force. Soleimani was later killed in a US drone strike that was justified by reference to his extensive role in attacks targeting Western interests and personnel. But as of 2019, he and Zarif were meeting on a weekly basis, and according to the latter, they never saw themselves as having any major differences of opinion.
Such statements present Zarif’s leaked interview in a different light while also underscoring the persistent dangers associated with the Assadi case. Despite what the regime’s apologists try to sell, Zarif’s interview highlighted the frequent overlap between the regime’s diplomatic infrastructure and security apparatus. He noted, for instance, that many of the regime’s diplomats, including the ambassadors to Syria and Iraq, began their careers as IRGC operatives or other participants in militant activity. These are precisely the circumstances that allow for terrorist plots like Assadi’s to be run through the regime’s embassies throughout the world.
In the case of the 2018 plot, the staging ground was the embassy in Vienna, but Assadi had also used his position there as a means of developing connections all across Europe. At the time of his arrest, Assadi was in possession of documents that showed he had provided cash payments to many of these operatives. It remains to be determined what services they were being compensated for, but it stands to reason that at least they were tasked with surveillance against potential targets of further attacks.
This is made all the more likely because the Paris plot was not the first of its kind to be thwarted in that same year. About three months earlier, the regime’s diplomats were implicated in an effort to deploy a truck bomb against the Ashraf-3, which houses around 3,000 members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). Also, in 2018, an Iranian national and an Iranian expatriate were indicted in the United States for conducting surveillance against the MEK.
Those indictments were the last incidents mentioned in a recently introduced resolution to the US House of Representatives, with more than 200 co-sponsors representing both political parties. H. Res. 118 also gives substantial attention to the plots against the PMOI and NCRI in Albania and France, then uses them to underline that the US government and its European allies should be working to hold Tehran accountable for “breaching diplomatic privileges.”
The resolution urges the international community to “prevent the malign activities of the Iranian regime’s diplomatic missions” and to work toward the goal of closing them down if the regime does not demonstrate a verifiable commitment to halting its terrorist activity and dismantling its terrorist infrastructure in the West.
As in 2018, all major players within that regime are unified in their support for using terrorism as a form of statecraft. The prosecution of an individual terrorist, while significant in its own right, can do nothing to sway those officials from their position. If Western powers wish to change the Iranian regime’s behavior and safeguard their own interests, they must demand accountability from a much higher level, namely from all those whose voice is represented to the Supreme National Security Council.