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Pro-Democracy Activism Will Expand When Iran Is Held Accountable for Terrorism

A verdict is expected next week in the case of Assadollah Assadi, a high-ranking Iran’s diplomat-terrorist, who served as the mastermind of a plot to bomb the opposition gathering in the heart of Europe. European policymakers should pay attention to the trial’s conclusion and consider the broader implications of what it has brought to light.

Those revelations fall into at least two distinct categories. On one hand, the details of the Assadi highlight the thinly-veiled threats to Western security which could emerge from the Iranian regime’s institutions and personnel in any time or place. On the other hand, when that threat emerged in the summer of 2018, it revealed some of the Iranian regime’s anxieties over significant threats to its own rule. These threats remain in and will ultimately result in democracy for the Iranian people.

Assadi’s prospective target was the June 2018 “Free Iran” rally and conference, which had been organized just outside Paris by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). About six months earlier, NCRI’s constituent group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (MEK or PMOI), according to regime’s officials, acted as the driving force behind an anti-regime uprising that spanned the entirety of Iran and lasted for about a month until thousands of arrests and several dozen deaths pushed it back momentarily.

Free Iran 2018 Gathering - 30 June 2018 - Villepinte, Paris

Recent disclosures from the Assadi trial indicate that when his agents, Nasimeh Na’ami and Amir Saadouni, received 500 grams of TATP explosive directly from the diplomat, they were instructed to place it as close as possible to Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the NCRI. Experts have testified that the device was powerful enough to kill countless attendees at the Free Iran rally. And had it been in close proximity to Mrs. Rajavi the death toll would have surely included some of the hundreds of European and American lawmakers and other dignitaries who had traveled there to show their support for the cause of Iranian democracy.

Fortunately, European agencies were monitoring the journey of the explosive device, perhaps since before Assadi departed Iran with it, secure in the knowledge that his diplomatic passport would spare him from ordinary security screenings. It was confiscated and detonated on the day of the NCRI’s event before Na’ami and Saadouni were able to carry it from Belgium into France. Assadi was arrested the following day in Germany, before returning to Austria where he acted as the third secretary of Iran’s embassy in Vienna, so he could better insist on his “diplomatic immunity.”

The conclusive disruption of this terror plot was a major setback for the Iranian regime, and not the first of its kind. About three months earlier, another team of operatives was caught in the planning of a truck bomb attack on Ashraf 3, the MEK members’ compound in Albania, after they were relocated from Iraq where they had repeatedly fallen under attack by Iran-backed militant groups. The MEK’s successful relocation poses a serious challenge to the clerical regime, which has often mitigated international pressure by insisting that there is no viable alternative to the theocratic dictatorship.

Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi faces terrorism trial in Belgium court

This talking point became much harder to maintain in 2018 when none other than the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei acknowledged the role the MEK had played in mustering nationwide opposition. A successful attack on the Iranian Resistance’s most symbolic international gathering might have restored a measure of credibility to the regime’s international propaganda. But that plan and the Iranian people’s quest for regime change continued.

In November 2019, Tehran disregarded the Iranian people’s worsening economic conditions in order to announce an increase in government-set gasoline prices. Immediately thereafter, citizens from all walks of life poured into the streets of over 200 cities and towns, rekindling the slogans from the previous uprising in the process.

This time, the regime responded with even more ruthless violence, killing at least 1,500 peaceful protesters. But even that was only enough to keep the unrest more-or-less under control for about two months, until the Revolutionary Guard shot down a commercial airliner in January 2020 and the people rose up once again to demand accountability for the entire regime.

If the Iranian people are willing to issue such demands while suffering under the rule of theocrats who very recently killed thousands of their compatriots, it is imperative for the international community to demand similar accountability from the regime for its export of terrorism. In fact, the recurring unrest inside Iran should inspire European and American policymakers to reevaluate their understanding of what can be accomplished by confronting Iran’s malign activities.

Certainly, that confrontation is valuable in its own right, for the sake of discouraging more of the same. As long as the threat of further uprisings looms over Tehran, the regime is sure to dispatch other figures like Assadi to make additional attempts on the lives of those who are leading the pro-democracy Resistance movement. And the details highlighted in Assadi’s trial suggest that a network for such operations is already in place among Iranian embassies and other institutions.

By shutting down those institutions and isolating the Iranian regime on the world stage, the nations of Europe will be safeguarding themselves against the very real possibility of being caught up in the regime’s escalating terrorist threats and conflict with Iranian people. But one way or another, those nations will eventually have to choose, and by acting against Iran’s terrorist networks now, they may be able to avoid more dangerous entanglements down the line.

Since the beginning of 2018, it has been clear that the clerical regime is vulnerable at home. When it is equally clear that that regime is isolated abroad, the domestic push for regime change will only grow in both its intensity and the breadth of its support. Convicting Assadollah Assadi is the first step toward this outcome, but it must lead to accountability for the regime as a whole.