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German court approves extradition of Iranian diplomat

BERLIN (AP) — A German court said Monday it has approved the extradition of an Iranian diplomat wanted in Belgium on suspicion he was part of a failed plot to bomb an Iranian opposition rally near Paris.

Vienna-based Assadollah Assadi was apprehended in July near the German city of Aschaffenburg on a European warrant alleging his involvement in the plot to bomb the June 30 rally. His arrest came after a couple with Iranian roots was stopped in Belgium and authorities reported finding powerful explosives in their car.

In its ruling, the Bamberg state court said diplomatic immunity did not apply in the case because the diplomat was on holiday in Germany when he was arrested, and not in transit between Iran and Austria.

Bamberg prosecutors are now reviewing the decision and it is not yet clear when the extradition might move ahead, spokesman Matthias Huber said.

The arrest sparked a number of diplomatic protests, with the Austrian Foreign Ministry summoning the Iranian Ambassador in Vienna, and the Iranian Foreign Ministry summoning envoys from France, Germany and Belgium.

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbass Araghchi has called the allegations against Assadi a “plot aimed at damaging EU-Iran relations” amid ongoing negotiations on the nuclear deal with Iran.

Following his arrest, Germany charged Assadi with activity as a foreign agent and conspiracy to commit murder, alleging that he contacted the couple in Belgium to attack an annual meeting of an exiled Iranian opposition group in Villepinte, near Paris.

They allege he gave the Antwerp-based couple a device containing 500 grams (1.1 pounds) of the explosive TATP during a meeting in Luxembourg in late June.

Assadi, who has been registered as a diplomat at the Iranian Embassy in Vienna since 2014, was a member of the Iranian intelligence service “Ministry of Intelligence and Security,” whose tasks “primarily include the intensive observation and combating of opposition groups inside and outside of Iran,” according to German prosecutors.

Belgian authorities also accuse Assadi of being part of the alleged plot reportedly aimed at setting off explosives at a huge annual rally of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq group, or MEK, in neighboring France, and want him extradited.

German prosecutors have said their investigation wouldn’t hinder Belgium’s extradition request for the suspect.

The MEK is an exiled Iranian opposition group based near Paris with some members elsewhere, in particular Albania. The formerly armed group was removed from European Union and U.S. terrorism lists several years ago after denouncing violence and getting western politicians to lobby on its behalf.

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