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Iranian Diplomat Accused of Plotting to Bomb Dissidents Goes on Trial in Belgium

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BRUSSELS — The bomb was handed over at a Pizza Hut in Luxembourg. The intent, prosecutors say, was to explode a rally in France of a distinguished opposition group to the Iranian authorities.

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An Iranian diplomat primarily based in Vienna and three different Iranians went on trial on Friday in Antwerp, Belgium, over the alleged plot, which the Belgian and French authorities say was organized by Iran’s intelligence providers and which was tipped off to them by Mossad, the Israeli intelligence company.

The prosecutors have accused the Iranian diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, 48, of bringing the bomb, slightly greater than a pound of TATP explosives and a detonator, to Vienna from Iran in his baggage on an Austrian Airways flight. He then drove it to Luxembourg in a rented automobile and handed it over to an Iranian-Belgian couple on June 30, 2018, within the Pizza Hut, prosecutors say.

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The couple, Amir Saadouni, 40, and his spouse, Nassimeh Naami, 36, had been granted political asylum and later citizenship in Belgium. They have been arrested two days later as they drove to Paris from Antwerp on the day of the rally. Mr. Assadi was arrested at a service station in Germany, the place he had no diplomatic immunity, on his method again to Vienna.

French and Belgian officers consider the three Iranians are brokers of the Iranian intelligence ministry. A fourth man, Mehrdad Arefani, 57, additionally Iranian-Belgian, is accused of being an confederate of Mr. Assadi. The 4 are charged with trying to hold out a terrorist assault and face sentences of as much as 20 years in jail.

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Because the proceedings started in Antwerp on Friday, Mr. Assadi selected to not seem. His lawyer, Dimitri de Beco, mentioned his shopper contested the costs and would increase procedural points, together with a declare of diplomatic immunity.

The authorities say the goal of the plot was the annual conference in Villepinte, outdoors Paris, of the Nationwide Council of Resistance in Iran, the political wing of the Mujahedeen Khalq, or M.E.Ok.

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The chief of the council, Maryam Rajavi, is a controversial determine who has been compared to the leader of a cult alongside together with her husband, Massoud Rajavi, who disappeared throughout the Iraq battle in 2003 and is believed to be useless.

Ms. Rajavi advocates a revolution in Iran and says she would act as interim president of a brand new authorities. The bomb plot, prosecutors consider, was aimed toward killing her.

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The 2018 conference was also attended by well-known worldwide figures, together with former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York; the previous Home speaker Newt Gingrich; the previous F.B.I. director Louis Freeh; former Gov. Invoice Richardson of New Mexico; former Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada; and the Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt. Up to now, such figures have been paid giant sums for his or her appearances and lobbying actions.

The M.E.Ok., which Ms. Rajavi additionally leads, has an advanced historical past. It started in opposition to the shah of Iran and later was declared a terrorist group by the European Union until 2009 and by the USA until 2012.

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Iran’s authorities has an advanced construction, with organizations just like the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps usually seeming to function individually from the federal government.

Overseas Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif known as the allegations of a bomb plot a “false flag” operation designed to embarrass Tehran simply earlier than President Hassan Rouhani traveled to Europe to rally help for the 2015 nuclear deal that President Trump deserted about two months earlier than the opposition group’s assembly.

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However the head of Belgium’s State Safety Service, Jaak Raes, mentioned that intelligence officers had decided the deliberate bombing was a state-sanctioned operation, accredited in Tehran.

“The plan to assault was conceived on behalf of Iran and below its management,” Mr. Raes wrote in a letter to legislation enforcement officers, together with the Belgian federal prosecutor, Frédéric Van Leeuw. “It was not a private initiative of Assadi.”

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The trial comes as Mr. Zarif and Mr. Rouhani try to revive higher relations with the USA after the election of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.

As well as, elections in Iran are scheduled for June, with the federal government’s extra hard-line opponents anticipated to do nicely, whereas the European Union is attempting to maintain the 2015 Iran nuclear deal alive till the Biden administration takes workplace.

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The allegation of a bomb plot just isn’t the primary instance of Tehran’s efforts to get rid of opposition overseas. Iran is accused of planning an assassination in Denmark, additionally in 2018, that embarrassed the European Union when Denmark known as for sanctions towards Iran.

However the Europeans have at all times emphasised that the 2015 deal was aimed solely at Iran’s nuclear program and wouldn’t be affected by different points, together with state-sponsored terrorism.

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The trial is anticipated to final a number of days, with a court docket judgment early subsequent yr.



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