Just after midday on June 30, 2018, Belgian police surrounded a Mercedes-Benz being driven by a Belgian-Iranian couple through Brussels. The couple had set off on a four-hour journey to Paris that morning and did not know unmarked police vehicles had been tailing them since they left their rented accommodations in Antwerp. When they took a detour through the Belgian capital after hitting traffic on the motorway, police swooped in, like reported by jpost.com.
With guns drawn, officers warned Amir Saadouni, 40, and his female accomplice, Nasimeh Naami, 36, to exit the car slowly. Saadouni and Naami were handcuffed and taken into custody. A search of the car uncovered a large suitcase containing a bomb made of triacetone triperoxide (TATP) – an extremely volatile explosive known as the “mother of Satan” because just tiny quantities of it can cause catastrophic damage. In the passenger foot-well was a women’s make-up bag that held a disguised detonator.
According to Belgian prosecutors, Saadouni and Naami had planned to plant the bomb at a political rally in Villepinte, on the outskirts of Paris. The annual event, which was attended by tens of thousands of people, had been organized by Iran’s exiled opposition movement, the National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI). High-profile attendees included Donald Trump’s former lawyer Rudy Giuliani, ex-speaker of the US House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, as well as dozens of parliamentarians from European Union member states, and five British MPs. The couple evidently hoped to kill hundreds, if not thousands of people, but their primary target was NCRI leader Maryam Rajavi, who delivered the keynote speech that afternoon.
Less than 24 hours after this terrorist attack was foiled, another covert police operation was carried out successfully. This time, it was German police who stopped a car close to the Austrian border and arrested its driver and alleged mastermind of the previous day’s terrorist plot, Vienna-based Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi.
The case of the Iranian bomb-plotters finally drew to a close in February this year when a judge at Antwerp Criminal Court sentenced the trio to prison terms ranging from 15 to 20 years on various terrorism charges. A fourth defendant, Mehrdad Arefani, was given a 17-year term after being found guilty of being a co-conspirator. Saadouni, Naami and Arefani were also stripped of their dual Belgian citizenship.
The Iranian bomb plot could be the tip of the iceberg. Iran’s European terrorist network appears to stretch far deeper than an isolated incident. Evidence presented in court indicates Assadi was not simply a rogue agent. Rather, he was operating with the knowledge and authority of his superiors in Tehran. As well as being a third counselor for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, he was also a senior officer within the Islamic Republic’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS). He had been, as the French Government contended, instructed by Iranian intelligence to organize at least one terrorist attack in Paris – something Tehran has vehemently denied.
Assadi refused to stand in the dock in court. He claimed he should be immune from such proceedings by virtue of his diplomatic status. However, German police demonstrated his diplomatic immunity did not extend beyond Austria, and they were able to extradite him to Belgium. Evidence presented before the judge shows Assadi did not spend all that much time at his embassy office. Instead, he appears to have been busy travelling across Europe, visiting countries including Italy, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. His visits rarely lasted longer than a day, and neither he nor the Iranian Embassy could produce any documentation that indicated he went to any of these locations in a professional capacity.