Belgium's release of Iranian bomb plotter Assadollah Assadi after Tehran regime took charity worker hostage will lead to more terrorist attacks in Europe – Struan Stevenson
Last month, the shameful humiliation of European justice was broadcast on the Iranian regime’s state-controlled media. President Ebrahim Raisi, dubbed ‘the Butcher of Tehran’, visited the home of the convicted bomb-carrying diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, and honoured him as a national hero. Assadi was a senior officer of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) who functioned under the guise of a registered diplomat in the Iranian embassy in Austria. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a Belgium court for the crime of directing the attempted bombing of an Iranian opposition rally in Paris in June 2018.
Assadi had been closely tracked by European intelligence agencies after he flew to Vienna in a commercial airliner, carrying a professionally constructed and powerful TATP explosive device in his diplomatic pouch. He was filmed driving from Vienna to Luxembourg in a hire car, in an attempt to avoid detection driving his usual official car with diplomatic plates. He was also absurdly disguised as a tourist in a hat and casual clothing, when he was filmed handing the bomb to three co-conspirators in a Luxembourg pizza restaurant, together with instructions on how to detonate the device, and 22,000 euros (about £18,800) in cash.
He was eventually apprehended in Germany, while his three co-conspirators were arrested in Belgium en route to the Iranian opposition rally in Paris. Had Assadi’s plot succeeded, hundreds of men, women and children, including prominent international political figures, would have been killed or maimed. The presiding judges in Antwerp left no doubt that the conspiracy was ordered from the highest echelons of government in Tehran, including the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the president at that time, Hassan Rouhani, and the then foreign minister, Javad Zarif. Raisi’s veneration of Assadi has confirmed that fact.
Raisi, notorious for his role as an executioner during the 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners, praised Assadi for his “perseverance and steadfastness” during his four years of imprisonment in Belgium, before his release in a disgraceful ‘prisoner swap’ deal with the Iranian regime. Raisi rubbed further salt in the EU’s wound by stating: “Human rights claimants have once again shown that they do not adhere to any law and by blatant and unprecedented violation of diplomatic immunity, they trampled upon international laws, rules, and principles.” The regime’s attempt to claim diplomatic immunity for an official caught red-handed commanding a deadly terrorist operation on European soil is preposterous.
The recent release of masses of documents hacked from Iran’s ministry of foreign affairs in Tehran showed how the regime went into overdrive to secure Assadi’s release by claiming diplomatic immunity. And when that failed, they seized a Belgian charity worker – Olivier Vandecasteele – as a hostage, accusing him of spying and sentencing him to 40 years imprisonment, a $1 million fine, and 74 lashes. The documents illuminate how Tehran used this tactic to negotiate the prisoner exchange with Belgium as far back as 2021. The fact that the Belgian government capitulated to this scandalous blackmail, must surely rank as one of the most reprehensible and egregious acts of appeasement of any government since the days of the Second World War.
Belgium is a country that describes itself as being in the heart of Europe. It hosts the headquarters of the European Parliament and the European Commission. It prides itself on embracing the institutions that have promulgated the EU’s core pillars of freedom, justice and human rights. At a single stroke, Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and his government destroyed that legacy and plunged their country into Europe’s Hall of Shame. By freeing Assadi, the Belgian government has scraped the bottom of the barrel of ignominy.
Predictably, Europe’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security – Josep Borrell – said and did nothing at the time of Assadi’s arrest and conviction. He is one of the arch-appeasers of the mullahs’ fascist regime, as is Charles Michel, former Belgian Prime Minister and now President of the European Council. Both have repeatedly confirmed their support for re-opening dialogue with Iran on the defunct nuclear deal and both seem determined to bend over backwards to achieve that objective. Neither Borrell nor Michel issued a statement condemning the scandalous prisoner swap and neither has condemned the Iranian president’s glorification of Assadi last week.
Prime Minister De Croo’s release of a convicted terrorist was in blatant defiance of the core principles of EU law and justice, making a fool of the bloc’s intelligence agencies, and the ruling of its own judges. By succumbing to the Iranian regime’s outrageous hostage diplomacy, De Croo and his government have simply emboldened the mullahs to perpetrate further acts of terror in the EU, in the knowledge that they can ensure the release of their terrorists by the simple expedient of taking hostages and committing criminal blackmail.
This is a shameful betrayal of EU law by Belgium and the next time a terrorist from the Iranian regime kills or maims innocent victims on European soil, De Croo, Borrell, Michel and their doleful band of appeaser colleagues must surely be held to account. They will have the blood of innocent people on their hands.
Struan Stevenson, a former member of the European Parliament, is the coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change and chair of the In Search of Justice committee on the protection of political freedoms in Iran. His latest book is entitled Dictatorship and Revolution. Iran – A Contemporary History.
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