Plotters who worked in the name of Iran face decades in jail for failed Paris bomb attack

A spymaster known by the codename Daniel and an apparently normal married couple were part of Iranian secret network in Europe

A Belgium armed police vehicle is stationed during the trial of four people, including a Belgian couple of Iranian heritage and an Iranian diplomate at the Antwerp criminal court on February 4, 2021.  A Belgian court convicted an Iranian diplomat for plotting a thwarted 2018 bombing of an opposition rally outside Paris and ordered him jailed for 20 years. Assadollah Assadi, now 49, was attached to the Iranian mission in Austria when he supplied explosives for the planned attack. He was arrested in Germany, where he did not have diplomatic immunity. Three accomplices, dual Iranian-Belgians, were given jail terms of between 15 and 18 years and stripped of their Belgian citizenship. - Belgium OUT
 / AFP / BELGA / Belga / DIRK WAEM
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Belgium convicted four people including an undercover Iranian diplomat of belonging to a covert network of spies and agents operated by Tehran in Europe to attacks its political opponents.

The judges in Antwerp accepted the judgment of Belgium's state security agency that the attack planned on an opposition rally in Paris in June 2018 was "conceived in the name of Iran and under its leadership".

Of the four involved, the ringmaster was Assadollah Assadi, 49, who was attached to the Iranian mission in Austria when he supplied explosives for the planned attack.

Assadi was arrested in Germany where he did not have diplomatic immunity.

Three accomplices, dual Iranian-Belgians, were sentenced to jail for between 15 and 18 years and stripped of their Belgian citizenship.

Here, The National profiles the plotters:

Assadollah Assadi  jailed for 20 years

The Vienna-based diplomat was the key player in the Paris bomb plot, supplying the device and the instructions to carry out the attack while acting on orders from Tehran.

Assadi was identified officially as third counsellor at the embassy in Austria – one of 18 diplomats posted there – but prosecutors said he was one of Iran’s most senior intelligence operatives in Europe.

He previously served as a diplomat from 2003 to 2008 in Iraq and was said to be an expert in handling explosives.

Assadi seemed sufficiently confident of his knowledge of explosives to drive around with the bomb in a car with his wife and two sons.

Despite his seniority, he appeared to have made a series of blunders that pointed to his involvement in the crime.

He left notes of his agent network in his car and failed to wipe his satellite-navigation device, which showed that he had carried out a reconnoitre of the dissidents’ rally the previous year.

Amir Saadouni  jailed for 15 years

A former supporter, if not member of the group he was sent to attack, Amir Saadouni, 40, was described as naive and easily manipulated by his wife and by Assadi.

He says he was the subject of a long period of grooming by Iranian agents and met Assadi in 2015 after approaches by two other people, Saadouni claimed.

He confessed to his role in the plot when questioned by officers and claimed that the blast was not intended to hurt anyone – a claim dismissed by the Belgian court.

Friends told The National after his arrest that he only claimed to be a dissident to prove that he was fleeing from oppression to secure Belgian citizenship.

A friend who claimed to have known him for 15 years said that he was a kind man who worked in a shop and a port warehouse, and enjoyed playing football and computer games.

Saadouni told detectives that “due to all the stress”, he and his wife were getting divorced.

Nasimeh Naami  jailed for 18 years

Two stories emerged of Nasimeh Naami, 36, after her arrest. Friends said she worked a few nights a week in a shop and was a creature of routine.

To investigators, she was a highly manipulative woman with closer links to Iran’s ministry of intelligence than she was letting on.

Naami always travelled with her husband to meet Assadi and they received thousands of euros for their work from the spymaster –money they have now been told to pay back.

The couple were said to have met online and moved to Belgium where they lived together in a rented flat.

She even manipulated her husband by creating a fake identity online and pretending to be a woman from Iran called "Negar".

Under that identity, Naami flirted with him, talked to him about the plot and urged him to place the explosives inside the convention hall.

Mehrdad Arefani  jailed for 17 years

The Belgium-based Arefani, 57, promoted himself as a dissident poet and writer who claimed to have fled to Europe about two decades ago to avoid persecution.

He was on the fringes of the movement but was in reality the eyes and ears of Assadi for the Iranian operation.

Spying equipment was found at his home in Brussels, including spectacles with a hidden camera and photographs of the offices of the dissident group the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which was the target of the plot.

Arefani's role had been to guide the couple at the rally but they never arrived.

He was well paid for his work and police confiscated €226,000 ($270,500) that he had been paid by Assadi, the court was told.

Arefani was the only one of the four defendants to appear in court for the sentencing.