Iranian spymaster tried to cover bomb-plot tracks with family tour of German castles

Assadollah Assadi given maximum 20 years and his accomplices jailed in Belgium

Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi took his family on a holiday tour of German castles to cover his tracks during final planning for an attack on a major opposition rally – a plot that led to him being jailed on Thursday.

In the post of third secretary in Iran's Vienna embassy, Assadi was one of Iran's most senior intelligence officers in Europe. In the months before the plot was broken up, he went on a round trip of more than 1,500 kilometres with his wife and two sons. During this time he took the opportunity to hand over the bomb in Luxembourg City and carry out final briefings for his two sleeper agents.

Prosecutors in  Antwerp, Belgium requested the maximum prison sentence of 20 years on charges of attempted terrorist murder and participation in the activities of a terrorist group. Assadi contested all the charges against him but was sentenced for the full term.

Three other defendants received jail sentences. Husband-and-wife team Amir Saadouni and Nasimeh Naami were sentenced to 15 and 18 years respectively. The fourth defendant, Mehrdad Arefani, was sentenced to 17 years in prison.

Assadi booked rooms in six hotels during the family trip from his base in Vienna, Austria, to Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg in June 2018.

But he failed to make the final destination after he was detained with his family by German police at a motorway service stop at Aschaffenburg.

By then, he would have known that his agents had failed to kill Maryam Rajavi, the leader of opposition group the National Council of Resistance of Iran, at a rally on the outskirts of Paris.

A green-covered notebook found in the back of Assadi’s car gave details of some of the tourist spots that the family may have visited during the trip.

They included references to Bismarck Tower in Bad Godesberg, the famous ruins of Heidelberg Palace near Mannheim and the magnificent hilltop Reichsburg Castle at Cochem.

(GERMANY OUT) Heidelberg Castle, Ottheinrich building, ruin   (Photo by Werner OTTO/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

It was not clear if they visited the sites as planned, but Assadi's wife claimed during questioning that the "family had visited many fortresses while travelling", according to a German police document seen by The National.

His son Hossein also “indicated that he and his family were planning to visit several castles during the holiday … and that they have done so”, the report said.

The journey took the family north-east and they stayed at Hotel Hieronimi, in Cochem, Germany, on June 27, booked for €100 ($119), before travelling the next day across the border to Luxembourg.

A police surveillance team monitored Assadi meeting Saadouni and Naami in Luxembourg's capital where he handed over the bomb to be used in the attack.

The family then travelled north from Luxembourg to an Ibis hotel in Liege, Belgium before heading back to Germany.

The attack was scheduled for June 30 but the bombers were stopped by a special police team in Brussels and the explosive was found wrapped in plastic in a toiletry bag, inside a suitcase.

Assadi sent a text message to the couple that evening asking if they were OK but got no reply, according to phone data records. He was heading back to Austria when he was arrested.

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