PARIS – An Iranian diplomat and three other Iranians are on trial Friday in Antwerp, Belgium, for planning to bomb a 2018 meeting in France of an exiled opposition group, the first time an EU country has translated an Iranian official for terrorism.
Belgian prosecutors accused Vienna-based diplomat Assadolah Assadi and the three others of planning an attack on a rally of the National Council of Iranian Resistance (NCRI) based in Paris. The rally’s opening speech was delivered by US President Donald Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani.
Assadi was the third adviser to the Iranian embassy in Vienna. French officials said he was in charge of intelligence in southern Europe and was acting on orders from Tehran.
Tehran has repeatedly rejected the charges, calling the attack allegations a “false flag” by the NCRI, which it considers a terrorist group.
Download the NBC News app for the latest news and politics
Assadi did not comment on the accusations. His lawyer said Assadi would explain himself during his trial. Assadi warned authorities in March of possible reprisals from unidentified groups if convicted, according to a police document obtained by Reuters.
Authorities say the attack was thwarted by a coordinated operation between French, German and Belgian security services.
Assadi was arrested while on vacation in Germany and returned to Belgium, where two of his alleged accomplices were arrested with half a kilogram of TATP explosive and a detonator.
According to documents reviewed by Reuters, Belgian authorities believe Assadi brought the explosives from Tehran to Vienna on a commercial flight.
“The plan of attack was designed on behalf of and under Iran’s leadership. It was not Assadi’s personal initiative, ”Jaak Raes, head of the Belgian state security service (VSSE), said in a letter to the prosecutor dated February. 2, 2020.
France said Iran’s intelligence ministry was behind the plot and expelled an Iranian diplomat. The EU has frozen the assets of an intelligence unit and Iranian officials.
European countries have accused Iran of other alleged plots against dissidents, including two murders in the Netherlands in 2015 and 2017 and one foiled assassination in Denmark. Iran has denied any involvement, saying the accusations were aimed at damaging EU-Iran relations.