Attack foiled during a conference in France: a diplomat and 3 other defendants convicted in Belgium
Steph Deschamps / February 5, 2021
The criminal court of Antwerp sentenced on Thursday an Iranian diplomat, Assadollah A., to 20 years in prison for terrorism. Two other defendants, Nasimeh N. and Amir S., received sentences ranging from 15 to 18 years, while a fourth defendant, Mehrdad A., was sentenced to 17 years in prison. They were prosecuted for a plan to bomb an Iranian opposition rally in France in 2018. The defendants were also stripped of their Belgian nationality.
Convictions were in accordance with the requirements of the federal prosecutor's office. Nasimeh N. and Amir S., a Belgian couple of Iranian origin living in Wilrijk, near Antwerp, were arrested in Woluwe-Saint-Pierre on June 30, 2018 with 500 grams of explosives and a detonator in their car. The two thirty-somethings were on their way to a conference of the People's Mujahideen (MEK) in Villepinte, near Paris. Nearly 25,000 people were expected to attend, including French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt, former U.S. presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York.
The fourth defendant, Merhad A., presented as an intermediary of the diplomat, was aware of the terrorist project and present at the MEK conference. The couple allegedly received the explosives from Assadollah A., a diplomat at the Iranian embassy in Austria at the time of the events, presented as the mastermind and coordinator of this project and considered by France as being remotely guided by the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence, which Tehran had strongly denied.
During the trial, the latter's defense had considered that the Antwerp judiciary was not competent to judge the diplomat, given the diplomatic immunity he enjoys, a position also defended by Iran. The court held that this immunity, however, only applied to Austria, where the diplomat was accredited at the time of the events. Moreover, Assadollah A. did not carry out diplomatic missions but rather headed a network of informers from the Iranian embassy in Vienna, to which the other three defendants belonged.
The Antwerp court found that it was established that the four defendants belonged to a terrorist group, housed in Department 312 of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS). However, the court did not go so far as to classify this ministry as a terrorist group for lack of sufficient objective elements. The lawyers for the civil parties hailed the judgment as courageous and even historic. For its part, the Iranian opposition party NCRI sees in it a clear confirmation that the Iranian regime is involved in state terrorism. It is now up to the European Union to send a signal, said NCRI representative Farzih Hashemi.
On the defense side, Nasimeh N.'s lawyer, Johan Platteau, will advise his client, sentenced to 18 years in prison, to appeal against Thursday's ruling. The woman of Iranian origin has also forfeited her Belgian nationality. The lawyer does not hide his disappointment with a judgment that followed the analysis of the federal prosecutor's office in which Johan Platteau does not believe. With this judgment, it is easy for me to advise my client. I think that this case will be treated on appeal.