Iranian diplomat sentenced to 20 years for French bomb plot which targeted event attended by UK MPs and Trump's lawyer

  • Video report by ITV News Global Security Editor Rohit Kachroo

An Iranian official has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for masterminding a 2018 bomb plot that targeted an exiled opposition group's rally in France attended by thousands of people including UK MPs and Donald Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

Assadollah Assadi, 49, who worked at the Iranian embassy in Vienna, had his plea for diplomatic status rejected by the Belgium court and was given the maximum prison term for attempted terrorist murder and participation in the activities of a terrorist group. According to the investigation, Assadi the explosives to Austria on a commercial flight from Iran and later handed the bomb over to a couple - Amir Saadouni and Nasimeh Naami - during a meeting at a Pizza Hut restaurant in Luxembourg.

On June 30, 2018, Belgian police officers, tipped off by intelligence services about a possible attack against the annual meeting of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq ( MEK), stopped the pair travelling in a Mercedes car.

In their luggage, they found 550 grams of the unstable TATP explosive and a detonator capable of causing a sizable explosion in the 25,000-strong crowd in the French town of Villepinte, north of Paris.

Assadi was arrested a day later in Germany and taken to Belgium where the court said his immunity was invalid as he was holiday at the time.

This is the first time an EU country has convicted an Iranian official for terrorism.Assadi contested all the charges against him and had reused to testify during his trial last year.

He is believed to have worked in Iran’s intelligence and security ministry who operated under cover at Iran’s embassy in Vienna.

Belgium’s state security officers said he worked for the ministry’s so-called Department 312, the directorate for internal security, which is on the European Union’s list of organisations regarded as terrorist.

Security was tight during the terrorism trial Credit: Virginia Mayo/AP

Prosecutors said Assadi was the “operational commander” of the attack and accused him of recruiting Saadouni and Naamithe years before the attack, to obtain information about the opposition.

During the trial, lawyers for the plaintiffs and representatives of opposition group MEK claimed - without offering evidence - that the diplomat set up the attack on direct orders from Iran’s highest authorities.

Tehran has denied having a hand in the plot.

Saadouni was sentenced to 15 years in jail while Naami was handed an 18-year sentence. The fourth defendant, Mehrdad Arefani, was sentenced to 17 years in prison. The MEK, once an armed organisation with a base in Iraq, is the most structured among exiled Iranian opposition groups and is detested by Iranian authorities. It was removed from EU and US terrorism lists several years ago after denouncing violence and getting western politicians to lobby on its behalf.

The MEK supports a hard line on Iran and backs US sanctions on the country.

Lawyers speak to the media outside the court in Antwerp. Credit: Virginia Mayo/AP