An Iranian diplomat suspected of masterminding a thwarted bomb attack against an exiled Iranian opposition group in France at an event attended by five UK MPs did not show up at the courthouse on the opening day of his trial on terror charges in Belgium.
More than two years after the cross-border police operation that thwarted the attack, Assadollah Assadi and three other suspects face between five years and 20 years in prison on charges of “attempted terrorist murder and participation in the activities of a terrorist group”.
Five MPs were among thousands who attended a rally in Paris two years ago allegedly targeted in the plot.
Conservative MPs Bob Blackman, Matthew Offord, and Theresa Villiers attended the event, according to the register of interests on the UK Government’s website.
They were joined by another Tory MP, Sir David Amess, and Labour’s Roger Godsiff, according to the Sun newspaper.
Minutes before the trial started in the city of Antwerp, lawyers from the plaintiffs and representatives of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq opposition group, or MEK, claimed without offering evidence that Assadi, who is in custody, was ordered by Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif not to attend.
The plaintiffs believe that Assadi organised the plot on orders from Iran’s highest authorities.
“The Iran state conspires, threatens and carries on attacks and executions,” said lawyer Georges Henri Beauthier.
“We have irrefutable proofs that the Iranian state gave orders from Tehran and authorised the death of thousands of people.”
His lawyer Dimitri De Beco said his client considers “the court is not competent to judge him” due to his diplomatic status.
Mr De Beco said he will also raise procedural issues during a second hearing set for next week.
However, Lawyers for the plaintiffs argue that diplomatic immunity does not equate to “impunity”.
Hearings are expected to last between two and three days and a verdict is expected be delivered by the end of next month or early next year.
On June 30 2018, Belgian police officers, tipped off about a possible attack against the annual meeting of the MEK, stopped a couple travelling in a Mercedes car.
Belgium’s bomb disposal unit said the device was of professional quality.
It could have caused a sizeable explosion and panic in the crowd, estimated at 25,000 people, that had gathered that day in the French town of Villepinte, north of Paris.
Regarded by investigators as the “operational commander” of the attack, Assadi is suspected of having hired the couple years earlier to infiltrate the opposition group.
A note from Belgium’s intelligence and security agency identified Assadi as an officer of Iran’s intelligence and security ministry who operated under cover at Iran’s embassy in Vienna.
Belgium’s state security officers believe 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.
Based near Paris, the MEK, once an armed organization with a base in Iraq, is the most structured among exiled Iranian opposition groups and detested by Iranian authorities.
It was removed from European Union and US terrorism lists several years ago after denouncing violence and getting Western politicians to lobby on its behalf.