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Features

Who is the Iranian Diplomat/Terrorist Mastermind of the Pizza Bomb?

February 4, 2021
Faramarz Davar
5 min read
A court in Antwerp, Belgium, has sentenced Assadollah Asadi, a diplomat of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Austria at the time of his arrest in 2018, to 20 years in prison on terrorism-related charges
A court in Antwerp, Belgium, has sentenced Assadollah Asadi, a diplomat of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Austria at the time of his arrest in 2018, to 20 years in prison on terrorism-related charges
Three of Asadi’s accomplices were also sentenced to between 15 and 18 years in prison for plotting to bomb a conference in Paris
Three of Asadi’s accomplices were also sentenced to between 15 and 18 years in prison for plotting to bomb a conference in Paris
Asadi and his three accomplices were found guilty of planning and attempt to bomb a Mojahedin-e Khalq conference on the outskirts of Paris in July 2018
Asadi and his three accomplices were found guilty of planning and attempt to bomb a Mojahedin-e Khalq conference on the outskirts of Paris in July 2018

A court in Antwerp, Belgium, has sentenced Assadollah Asadi, a diplomat of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Austria at the time of his arrest in 2018, to 20 years in prison on terrorism-related charges. He was found guilty of plotting to carrying out a terrorist attack by planting explosives at the Paris conference of an Iranian dissident organization.

Three of Asadi’s accomplices were also sentenced to between 15 and 18 years in prison for plotting to bomb the conference . All four have 30 days to appeal the verdict.

This is the first time that an Islamic Republic diplomat serving in Europe has been convicted of terrorism-related offenses and sentenced to prison.

Asadi, 49, was the third secretary of the Iranian embassy in Austria at the time of his July 2018 arrest. He refused to appear in court on February 4, 2020, in Antwerp, Belgium for his sentencing. Nasimeh Naami was sentenced to to 18 years in prison, Mehrdad Arefani to 17 years in prison and Amir Saadouni to 15 years in prison.

Asadi’s three accomplices were also Belgian citizens and their citizenship has been revoked.

Naami and Saadouni are a married couple. Mehrdad Arefani is also an Iranian citizen and was alleged to be a former member of the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO) which opposes the Islamic Republic. During the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, the MKO was based in Iraq and waged its own armed struggle against Iran.

Asadi and his three accomplices were found guilty of planning and attempt to bomb an MKO conference on the outskirts of Paris in July 2018.

Officials of the Islamic Republic said in recent months that a Belgian court has no jurisdiction over Asadi because of diplomatic immunity. But Belgian prosecutors argued that Asadi's diplomatic workplace was in Austria, that he had been arrested on holiday in Germany, and that the case was therefore not subject to diplomatic immunity.

Georges-Henri Beauthier, from the Belgian prosecutor's office, told reporters on 4 February that the verdict showed a diplomat has no immunity for criminal actions and that the Iranian government was responsible for the plot.

According to the Associated Press, representatives of the Mojahedin-e Khalq, who were present at the court hearing, also said the order to bomb their conference was issued directly by senior officials of the Islamic Republic.

The plot and the arrest

In July 2018, Asadi traveled to Luxembourg to meet with Amir Saadouni and Nasimeh Naami in a pizzeria. The Iranian diplomat had attempted to disguise himself by wearing a t-shirt, a straw hat and hanging a camera around his neck. The indictment issued against Asadi alleged that he had placed the necessary materials for the explosion in a pizza box, delivering it to the couple with about 12,000 euros in cash.

Outside the pizzeria, European security agents monitored and filmed Asadi and the couple, moving to arrest them once they had crossed into Belgium. The agents found and secured a 550-gram bomb in their car. The couple was arrested on the spot while Asadi was arrested as he crossed from Germany into Austria. The arrest warrants had been issued by Belgian authorities so Asadi was taken into custoy in Belgium. Mehrdad Arefani was arrested separately. All arrests were made as part of a joint operation between Belgium, Germany, and France.

Ali Majedi, the Islamic Republic's ambassador to Germany, whose term ended almost immediately after Asadi's arrest, had said the evidence against Asadi was so strong that it was difficult to deny in court.

Asadi did not appear in court during the trial. According to media reports, which quoted Belgian judicial officials, when Asadi was detained and before his trial, unknown individuals in Belgian threatened retaliatory action if he was convicted.

Saadouni and Naami confirmed in court that they had received a package in a pizza box from Asadi but that they did not know its contents or that the contents were lethal.

The sentence of 20 years in prison for plotting a deadly bombing attack is the highest sentence the court could have imposed on Asadi.

European intelligence and security agencies have identified Asadi as an employee of the Ministry of Intelligence's internal security department, and an official of the ministry, posing as a diplomat in Europe. The European Union has since placed Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence on its list of terrorist organizations and imposed sanctions on the ministry.

Diplomats of the Islamic Republic have been routinely suspected and accused of terrorist acts by various host governments over the last four decades – including in the attempted assassinations of dissidents. The governments of Turkey, Germany, France, the Netherlands, as well as Oman, have explicitly accused Iranian diplomats of involvement in plotting to kidnap and assassinate Iranian dissidents outside Iran.

IranWire has previously published a list of assassinations of opponents of the Islamic Republic outside Iran. Agents of the Islamic Republic are accused of collaborating and carrying out these foreign assassinations. These include the assassinations of Shapur Bakhtiar, the last prime minister of Iran before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Ali Akbar Tabatabai, spokesperson for the Iranian embassy in Washington, DC, before the Revolution, and Mohammad Hossein Naghdi, a chargé d'affaires of the Iranian embassy in Italy in the early 1980s and later also a leading dissident.

In recent years, a number of countries have also accused some Iranians and some Lebanese citizens of carrying out acts of sabotage and bombings planned by Iran. The Thai government extradited several Iranian nationals accused of plotting to assassinate an Israeli ambassador in the country.

Despite such a record, this is the first time a diplomat from the Islamic Republic has been formally accused by a government of plotting to carry out a bomb attack, and then convicted along with three accomplices.

Officials in the Islamic Republic have condemned Asadi's arrest as an anti-Iranian plot cooked up by the MEK and “Zionists”.

Diplomatic immunity is only valid as long as diplomatic missions and activities are of a purely diplomatic nature and if a host country has granted diplomatic immunity and issued diplomatic credentials to the relevant officials. Asadi’s conviction of plotting to carry out a bombing violated his diplomatic immunity; in addition, his attempt to carry out a bombing took place in a country where Asadi had no diplomatic immunity.

The Belgian court’s ruling now adds a charge of plotting a bombing on European soil to the record of the foreign actions of the ruling regime in Iran. And the crime committed by Assadollah Asadi, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison in Belgium, is punishable by death sentence in the Islamic Republic.

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