(CNSNews.com) – The Iranian regime’s efforts to quietly resolve a potentially explosive dispute with Europe faced another setback Wednesday when Belgium took into custody an Iranian “diplomat” suspected of involvement in a plot to bomb a dissidents’ rally in France last June.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, noting Asadollah Assadi’s extradition from Germany to Belgium, said the foiled plot was a reminder that Tehran remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and “lays bare Iran’s continued support of terrorism throughout Europe.”
Assadi, who was accredited to Iran’s embassy in Vienna as a “third counselor,” was arrested in Germany a day after the aborted attack on a June 30 National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) rally near Paris, and has now been handed over to Belgium for trial.
The Belgians are leading the investigation, since an Iranian couple living in Belgium were arrested in that country on the day of the rally, allegedly in possession of 500 grams of the powerful homemade explosive TATP and an ignition mechanism, hidden in a toiletry bag
Assadi is suspected to have given the husband-and-wife pair the materiel at a rendezvous in Luxembourg hours before they were stopped in Belgium. He then drove into Germany, where he was arrested at a highway gas station in Bavaria.
The Iranian regime – which is trying to get the Europeans to continue supporting the nuclear deal following President Trump’s withdrawal – says the allegations are fabricated, and an attempt to damage its diplomatic initiatives in Europe just as President Hassan Rouhani was visiting Austria.
Since Assadi’s arrest Tehran has tried public and private persuasion to get him released and returned home.
But a court in Bavaria ruled last week Assadi could be sent to Belgium in response to a European arrest warrant. It ruled that he did not enjoy diplomatic immunity from prosecution, as he had not been arrested while in transit between his home country and country of accreditation, Austria, but in a third country.
Also in custody is a fourth person who was arrested in France and transferred to Belgium. Investigators described the man, a Belgian of Iranian origin, as a “suspected accomplice.”
The French government early this month froze Assadi’s assets and those of one Saeid Hashemi Moghadam, believed to be a senior ministry of intelligence (MOIS) official in Tehran. It also froze the assets of the MOIS internal security division, and said the “extremely grave attack” planned to take place on French soil “cannot go unanswered.”
“The scale of this plot, which involved arrests of numerous suspects across Europe – including in Belgium, France, and Germany – reminds us that Iran remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism,” Pompeo said on Wednesday.
“This plot also lays bare Iran’s continued support of terrorism throughout Europe,” he said. “We support our European allies in exposing and countering the threat that Iranian-backed terrorism poses around the world. The United States will continue working with our partners and allies to confront the threat posed by the Iranian regime.”
Up to 25,000 people were reported to have attended the NCRI’s annual “Free Iran” rally in Villepinte, north of Paris, among them former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former FBI Director Louis Freeh, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, former Homeland Security Advisor Frances Townsend and former U.S. Army chief of staff Gen. George Casey. Other foreign guests included the former Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper.
In Tehran, the foreign ministry on Wednesday summoned German Ambassador Michael Klor-Berchtold to protest Assadi’s handover to Belgium.
Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said the ambassador was told the German court’s decision “had its roots in a plot hatched by the enemies of Iran-Europe ties.”
He said Klor-Berchtold was also told that Iran would make “a proper decision” in response to Germany’s action in due course.
Ghasemi reiterated the regime’s stance that the NCRI – an exiled opposition group which Iran views as a terrorist organization – had itself “played a key role in the plot,” along with “the Zionist regime.”