A trial has already begun in Antwerp for four individuals who are accused of plotting to commit a terrorist attack in the summer of 2018. The intended target of that attack was a gathering of Iranians at a convention space just outside Paris. And the would-be perpetrators include a high-ranking Iranian diplomat-terrorist who had the leadership of the operation upon orders from the highest authorities in the theocratic regime.
There is little doubt of conviction, and the major outstanding questions concern the sentences that each of the four defendants may receive. The charges against them call for prison terms anywhere between five and 20 years.
Many of the would-be victims of the terror plot have understandably pushed for the maximum sentence, or something close to it. But there should be greater accountability, since the regime as a whole is culpable and should face punishment in the form of more comprehensive human rights sanctions, greater diplomatic isolation, and international prosecution of leading regime officials.
Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the Iranian opposition leader who was also reported to be the primary target of the 2018 terror plot, has called for the European authorities to hold the entire regime to account. Mrs. Rajavi delivered the keynote address at the “Free Iran” gathering in 2018, which was organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). Similar gatherings had been held each year since 2004, but the 2018 event was afforded particular significance by the fact that that year had begun with Iran already in the midst of a nationwide uprising led by the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (MEK/PMOI).
Mrs. Rajavi in a message on the occasion of Assadi’s trial said: “As I emphasized during my seven-hour testimony, the Supreme National Security Council, presided over by Hassan Rouhani, made the decision to bomb the Iranian Resistance’s annual gathering at the Villepinte, and the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei approved it. Khamenei, Rouhani, Javad Zarif, and the mullahs’ Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi must face justice for decades of crimes and terrorism.”
It was no doubt on account of that uprising that Iranian authorities set out to kill Mrs. Rajavi and to disrupt the greatest single display of international support for the Resistance movement. Other speakers at the 2018 Free Iran rally included current and former members of European parliaments, a former US ambassador to the United Nations, and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Had the terror plot succeeded in killing or wounding Rajavi, it would have almost certainly done the same to a number of these Western dignitaries.
By all account, Tehran’s operatives put these lives at risk knowingly. In so doing, they also created considerable risk for the regime’s foreign relations. That risk was made all the greater by the fact that the mastermind of the terror plot, Assadollah Assadi, is a high-ranking diplomat-terrorist who was filling the role of third counsellor in the regime’s embassy in Vienna at the time. His arrest in July 2018 went a long way toward exposing the regime’s habit of using diplomatic personnel and institutions as conduits for terrorist activity.
In the wake of that arrest, a spokesperson for the Belgian judiciary told a news conference that “practically all” of Iran’s consular employees are actually agents in the regime’s Secret Service. This is a fact that Mrs. Rajavi and many Iranians have gone to great lengths to emphasize in the run-up to Friday’s trial, as by hosting a number of virtual conferences to discuss Western policies toward Iran in the context of the terror plot.
As well as emphasizing the role of diplomatic personnel, those conferences have frequently highlighted evidence that the order for an attack on the NCRI gathering was handed down from the highest ranks of the clerical regime, with approval from both the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and President Hassan Rouhani. Investigations by both Belgian and French authorities have publicly confirmed that Assadi was not acting on his own initiative but was ordered by Tehran to undertake the plot.
European policymakers should consider that evidence very carefully, and they should act upon it regardless of the outcome of the trial. At the same time, they should proceed on the understanding that guilty verdicts are all but assured on the basis of what was known even before the trial began.
The pending issuance of that verdict represents a significant opportunity for the international community to demand accountability from Assadi’s handlers, right alongside the diplomat-terrorist himself, and his co-conspirators. Many of those who were in attendance at the 2018 rally have already outlined what this accountability might look like, so Western policymakers can enter into the period following Assadi’s trial with some idea about the course of action they might pursue once the verdict comes in.
But the specific course of action is less important than the question of whether it delivers a message to the Iranian regime regarding an end to the impunity that the regime has enjoyed up to this point. Robert Joseph, an American foreign policy scholar and former Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, expressed this sentiment clearly in his affidavit as a civil party to the case against the four Iranian operatives.
Their terror plot, Joseph said, was “an abhorrent crime that cannot be tolerated by any civilized government… If the leaders of free societies fail to hold the perpetrators responsible, we will only encourage more attacks and be complicit in them.”
Now as Mrs. Rajavi emphasized: The Iranian regime’s leaders must be prosecuted and face justice. This is an imperative and deterrent step to counter the godfather of international terrorism in our time.