Commentary: Major Trial in Europe Exposes Iran’s Terrorism

Nov. 3 will be an important date for the American people, since they will elect their next president. Another day in November that will be important in the context of the next presidency’s battle against terrorism will be Nov. 27.

A trial is currently scheduled to begin in Belgium on that day for a senior sitting Iranian diplomat who was arrested as the mastermind behind what would have been one of the largest-ever terrorist attacks on European soil. Assadollah Assadi was stationed at the Iranian Embassy in Vienna in June 2018 when two Iranian-Belgian operatives allegedly attempted to carry 500 grams of TAPT high-explosives to a large international gathering of Iranian dissidents near Paris. It was later reported that Assadi had personally provided the couple with the explosives and a detonator in Luxembourg, thus confirming his intimate relationship to a plot that could have killed hundreds of people, wounding many more.

Alongside tens of thousands of Iranians from throughout the world, the target event was also attended by hundreds of international dignitaries, including lawmakers, scholars, military experts, and security professionals from the United States and Europe. Many of my colleagues were among a senior U.S. bipartisan delegation that took part in the event.

[MORE: What Do Countries Teach About Terrorism?]

The primary target of the terror plot was no doubt the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) President-elect, Maryam Rajavi. The regime wanted to deliver a serious blow to the NCRI, which is Iran’s largest and most enduring pro-democracy coalition. But the collateral damage might have included such high-profile Western figures as former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Bill Richardson, and former Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi.

Tehran has rejected the charges against Assadi, calling them an operation by the NCRI’s political arm, the MEK, (Mujaheedin-e Khalq), which presents itself as an alternative to Iran’s theocracy. Assadi has not commented on the charges and his lawyer has declined comment.

Thankfully, collaboration by multiple European authorities resulted in foiling the plot in the final hours. The two would-be bombers were arrested in Brussels on their way to the event with the bomb and detonator in their car on June 30. They were later joined in Belgian custody by another operative who had separately gained access to the “Iran Freedom” rally and by Assadi himself, who was arrested the following day while traveling to Germany, beyond the reach of his diplomatic immunity.

If convicted, Assadi will be the first accredited diplomat to face charges connected to terrorism in the West. But this is not to say that he has been the first such individual dispatched to Europe by the Iranian regime to conduct terrorism against opponents. Jaak Raes, administrator-general of the General Information and Security Service, pointed out in the wake of Assadi’s arrest that the vast majority of Iran’s consular officials are actual agents of the Iranian secret service.

The Paris terror plot has accordingly given new fuel to appeals for the closure of Iranian embassies throughout the world. The NCRI has long emphasized that the mullahs’ entire diplomatic network is essentially a front for terrorist activity. The lack of distinction between these two roles is an unsurprising feature of the clerical regime because Tehran has a well-recognized history of using terrorism as a form of statecraft. Importantly, Assadi was not acting alone. He had received his marching orders from the highest ranks of the regime.

Ordinarily, the regime maintains some measure of plausible deniability by channeling these activities through any number of foreign militant proxies. The Assadi case does not represent an overall change in strategy. It signals that the regime is desperate to strike a devastating blow against the Iranian Resistance. Concerns about growing unrest inside Iran apparently led to the regime exposing one of its leading terrorist-diplomats. But both Assadi and the sleeper cell he was controlling had been residing in Europe for years, preparing for the day when they were called upon to engage in violence.

As the world prepares for Assadi’s trial, policymakers and diplomats should endeavor to bring more attention to the fact that he is by no means alone. There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of individuals operating under diplomatic cover in Europe today, waiting for another order to carry out terrorism on western soil. The conditions that prompted the 2018 terror plot have never really abated. Quite the contrary, they have intensified.

The regime’s alleged plot emerged in the wake of unprecedented uprisings at the beginning of 2018. That year, Maryam Rajavi had called for a “year full of uprisings,” which was still going strong when the regime hatched its plan to assassinate Rajavi. The country was rocked by yet another nationwide uprising in November 2019, and although the regime promptly killed 1,500 participants in that movement, pockets of unrest continued to appear throughout the country, signaling the people’s refusal to be cowed by vicious state repression.

Popular uprisings have weakened the regime while the opposition is getting stronger. Another Iranian attempt at terrorism on Western soil is all but inevitable. And in the interest of heading off that phenomenon, Assadollah Assadi’s forthcoming prosecution should be regarded not just as an opportunity to hold the regime accountable, but also to expel those who are poised to use Iran’s diplomatic networks for nefarious ends.

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