In the summer of 2018, an Iranian-Belgian couple was detained attempting to drive into France while carrying 500 grams of the high-explosive TATP. The following day, an Iranian “diplomat” was arrested in Germany for having personally delivered the explosives to that couple along with instructions on how to operate it and where to place it. A fourth accomplice was also detained by French authorities after having infiltrated the target venue, a convention space just outside Paris that played host to an annual gathering organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
The terror plot remained under investigation for about two and a half years before the diplomat-terrorist, Assadollah Assadi, went on trial alongside his co-conspirators last November. The verdict was originally scheduled to be read out before the end of January, but is expected on Thursday. Given the strength of the evidence that has been made available to the public, there does not seem to be much doubt about the defendants being pronounced guilty, though it remains to be seen whether the judge will follow prosecutors’ recommendation to hand Assadi the maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
It also remains to be seen whether the consequences of the terror plot and subsequent prosecution will extend beyond the lives of the four defendants, as they should. In a report on the then-ongoing investigation in February 2020, the Belgian National Security Service emphasized that the terror plot was “developed in the name of Iran at the request of its leadership” and that “Assadi didn’t initiate the plans himself.” This has naturally led to widespread calls for accountability from the Iranian regime as a whole. Dozens of European policymakers have expressed that sentiment in at least two recent statements addressed to leading officials in the European Union and the Council of Europe.
One such statement was prepared by the International Committee in Search of Justice and signed by more than 20 former government officials representing a dozen European countries. Another was signed by more than 40 current European parliamentarians and addressed primarily to Rik Daems, the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Both used similar language to demand that lawmakers pay due attention to the conclusion of the Assadi case and then recognize it as grounds for reevaluating their countries’ overall approaches to Iran policy. Both statements also implied that existing policies tend toward appeasement and has and will be emboldening Iran’s terrorist activity.
The consequences of appeasement are more serious in the wake of the Assadi case than they have been for many years. This is partly because that case stems from a plot that could have resulted in one of the worst terrorist attacks on European soil. But it is also because the very existence of that plot was a sign of desperation and vulnerability which threaten to make the Iranian regime as dangerous as a cornered animal.
Iran-backed terrorism is nothing new, but Tehran almost always channels its terrorist objectives through militant proxies in order to maintain some degree of plausible deniability. The Assadi case departed from that pattern by entrusting a high-ranking Iranian diplomat-terrorist to actually run the operation, thereby risking exposure not only for himself but also for at least one sleeper cell that the regime had spent years cultivating. This was apparently a testament to the particularly high value of the target and the perceived need for immediate action against it.
That impatience stems from the fact that Tehran was keen to retaliate against the organizers of the 2018 event for their role in a nationwide uprising that began in Iran at the end of 2017 and continued through much of the following January. No less an authority that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei acknowledged in the midst of that uprising that it had been largely planned and facilitated by the NCRI’s main constituent group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI – MEK).
This admission served to explain not only the movement’s rapid spread to more than 100 cities and towns but also the strength of its messaging, which came to be defined by chants like “death to the dictator.” The 2018 uprising would prove to be the most serious challenge to the very structure of the theocratic regime until November 2019, when another such uprising revived the same slogans and spread them to nearly twice as many localities.
Still reeling from the initial uprising months after the fact, the Iranian regime understood that the Resistance movement would most likely continue to build momentum if the international rally on June 30 went ahead as planned. Thus the regime’s Supreme National Security Council communicated its plans to Assadi and made preparations for him to smuggle the requisite explosives from Iran into Europe. When Assadi handed off those explosives to the would-be bombers Amir Saadouni and Nasimeh Naami, he urged them to place the bomb as close as possible to Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the keynote speaker and the NCRI’s President-elect, and whose calls for “a year full of uprisings” would soon set the stage for the follow-up protest movement in November 2019.
Fortunately, Assadi’s terror plot was thwarted by the cooperation of multiple European law enforcement agencies. Yet the regime imposed a deadly crack down even more fiercely on domestic unrest, resulting in over 1,500 participants in the November 2019 uprising being shot dead by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
This mass murder once again highlights the need for the international community to have the IRGC designated in its entirety as a terrorist organization. This recommendation was repeated in one of the aforementioned statements from European lawmakers, which also named the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security as the entity most responsible for the presence of figures like Assadollah Assadi in Iranian embassies throughout the world.
The statement addressed to PACE President Rik Daems called for “agents and mercenaries of Iran’s intelligence services” to be “tried, punished, and expelled,” but it did not explicitly urge terrorist designation for entire institutions. It did, however, underscore the similar roles that might be played by terrorist designation for the MOIS and the IRGC.
The statement rightly observed that both domestic and external operations are closely related in that they have collectively served as the “foundation of Iran’s survival strategy for decades.” In so doing, foreign and domestic operations have both intensified at times when the regime’s hold on power was under particular threat. This was certainly the case in the immediate aftermath of the 2018 uprising, and it remains the case today, with the threat of recurring unrest having been confirmed by the 2019 uprising and other widespread demonstrations in January 2020, just before the start of the global pandemic.
Before that unrest flares up again, the international community must do everything in its power to weaken the institutions and dismantle the networks that Tehran uses to respond violently to every perceived challenge. This is as vital to the protection of peaceful Iranian activists as it is to Europe’s national security interests.
Source » ncr-iran