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Iran's reckless state terrorism may mean closing its London embassy

Bob Blackman MP
December 21, 2020

The Iranian Diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, is on trial following his intent to blow up a rally in France of a prominent opposition group. Bob Blackman MP is among many other lawmakers who has signed a statement calling for a change to the European diplomatic stance toward Iran.  

Recently, a group of 240 lawmakers, including some 50 from the UK, issued a statement calling for a dramatic change in European diplomatic posture toward the Islamic Republic of Iran. The signatures represent 19 different countries and a wide range of political affiliations. They include the names of several dignitaries who very nearly became victims of Iranian state sponsored terrorism in 2018. Those particular signers, including myself, are now among the civil parties in a terrorism case that is currently unfolding in Belgium, involving an Iranian diplomat who was the mastermind of the plot.

The lawmakers' statement explicitly referenced the case as something that ought to help motivate Europe to adopt a different set of policies and specifically to make future European relations with Iran "contingent upon the necessary guarantees from the Iranian regime to put an end to its terrorist acts on European soil." The significance of the terror case stems as much from its potential death toll as from the details of its planning and attempted implementation. "Had this terrorist operation succeeded, it would have undoubtedly left hundreds killed and many more wounded," the European statement noted, drawing it conclusion from the fact that the Iranian-Belgian conspirators were found in possession of more than a pound of the explosive TATP while attempting to cross into France to access an annual gathering of Iranian expatriates and their political supporters.

Overall attendance at that event was estimated at approximately 100,000. Following investigation into the plot, Belgian prosecutors concluded that the Iranian regime's aim had been to cause as much loss of life as possible while also specifically targeting the Iranian Resistance leader Maryam Rajavi. In the first, the prosecutors also emphasized that it was certainly the Iranian regime that had formulated that goal, and not any particular agent acting on their own.

The case that began with that hearing involves four defendants. Chief among them is a high-ranking Iranian diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, who was serving at the Iranian embassy in Vienna until he was arrested in Germany on July 1, 2018. The Iranian government fought bitterly against his extradition to Belgium, and has since maintained that the arrest itself was illegal on account of Assadi's diplomatic status.

The regime continued to maintain this position even after it was revealed that Assadi himself had threatened Belgian investigators with the prospect of further terrorism at the hands of militant proxies, if those proxies determined that Assadi was to be punished by the court. That outcome seems all but inevitable in light of what has already been reported publicly about the terror plot.

Assuming the case concludes as it is expected to (a ruling expected in January 2021), European authorities will need to be on guard against the threats that Assadi outlined. And in light of what the case is revealing about Iran's terrorist sponsorship, those same authorities should acknowledge that all such threats can ultimately be traced back to the heart of the regime, often through its diplomatic institutions and personnel.

The Belgian court case is the first instance of an Iranian diplomat being formally prosecuted in Europe, but it is by no means the first instance of such an individual coming under suspicion for similar activities.

In reality, both the tactics and the potential impact of Iranian state terrorism have been recognized for years throughout the world, though few practical measures have been undertaken to halt the pattern. This is something that the signers of the recent European statement demand to be changed in favor of a policy that either demands or compels different behaviors from the Iranian regime.

The statement urged European governments to convey a message to Tehran regarding the necessity of certain guarantees as a prerequisite for continued diplomatic and trade relations. It then went on to say that this message should be backed up with "practical warnings" which might include the closure of embassies and the expulsion of diplomats.

Assadi's actual prosecution stands to function as a turning point, and one that clarifies just how much his activities reflect upon those of the entire regime in Tehran.

Pre-trial investigations and the first hearing have placed strong emphasis on the fact that the order to attack the 2018 Free Iran rally came down from some of the highest Iranian authorities.

The judicial process must run its course and the direct participants in the 2018 terror plot must face appropriate penalties. But while awaiting the verdict and sentencing, European leaders should very carefully consider the recommendations presented in the aforementioned statement. And they should be prepared to move on whatever course of action they agree upon as soon as the trial concludes and shines additional light on the unresolved crisis of Iranian terrorism. What is at the stake is safety and security of European citizens. I know first-hand and close. By the way, isn't guaranteeing safety and security of their citizens, regardless of any geopolitical considerations, should not be the primary concern of any sensible government? Here is where a UK that has freed itself from collective thinking of Brussels could lead by example.


Bob Blackman is the Conservative MP for Harrow East and Chair of the APPG for Azerbaijan.

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