An Iranian diplomat suspected of masterminding a failed bomb attack at a rally outside Paris attended by five British MPs has skipped the first day of his trial, allegedly on the orders of Iran’s foreign minister.
Lawyers for Assadollah Assadi, 48, told a court in the Belgian city of Antwerp that their client, who is in custody, was claiming diplomatic immunity.
Without offering any evidence, it was claimed that Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, had ordered Assadi, formerly based in the Iranian embassy in Vienna, not to attend the trial.
Along with three other suspects, Assadi is facing between five and 20 years in prison on charges of “attempted terrorist murder and participation in the activities of a terrorist group”.
It is alleged that Assadi was behind a plan to bomb an Iranian opposition rally in 2018 on the orders of Iran’s government, a claim denied by Tehran.
The Conservative MPs Bob Blackman, Matthew Offord and Theresa Villiers attended the event, according to the register of interests on the government’s website. They were joined by another Tory MP, Sir David Amess, and Labour’s Roger Godsiff. Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani was also at the event.
Georges Henri Beauthier, prosecuting the case, told the court: “The Iran state conspires, threatens and carries on attacks and executions. We have irrefutable proof that the Iranian state gave orders from Tehran and authorised the death of thousands of people.”
Belgian police officers foiled the attack on 30 June after receiving a tipoff and stopping a couple traveling in a Mercedes car in which they found 550 grams of the unstable TATP explosive and a detonator hidden in luggage in the vehicle’s boot.
Belgium’s bomb disposal unit said the device was of professional quality.
It is believed the target was a Free Iran rally being staged in the French town of Villepinte, north of Paris, where about 25,000 people had gathered.
The event had been organised by the Iranian People’s Mujahedin, a previously armed group that has been taken off the European Union’s list of terrorist groups since renouncing violence.
Belgium intelligence believe Assadi is an officer of the so-called department 312 in Iran’s intelligence and security ministry, regarded as a terrorist organisation by the EU. It is claimed he operated undercover at Iran’s embassy in Vienna.
He is accused by investigators of being the foiled attack’s “operational commander” who recruited the couple arrested in the car, Amir Saadouni and Nasimeh Naami.
It is claimed that Assadi smuggled in the explosives on a commercial flight to Austria then handed the bomb over to Saadouni and Naami during a meeting in a Pizza Hut restaurant in Luxembourg two days before their arrest.
Assadi has refused to cooperate with investigators and denies all charges. His lawyer, Dimitri De Beco, said his client considers “the court is not competent to judge him” due to his diplomatic status.
The trial will continue next Friday with a verdict expected by the end of December or early next year.