Though it had all the makings of an espionage thriller, the event was anything but fiction. An Iranian diplomat accredited to Tehran’s embassy in Vienna, Austria, is arrested in Germany and charged with conspiracy to commit murder and activity as a foreign agent. Authorities suspect the diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, hired an Iranian couple living in Belgium to carry out a bomb plot targeting a rally of about 4,000 Iranian dissidents at the Villepinte Congress Center near Paris and provided them with 500 grams of TATP explosives at a meeting in Luxembourg in late June 2018. The target was the annual meeting of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which is the umbrella political organization including the Mujahedeen-Khalq, or MEK, a group once listed as a terrorist group by the United States and European Union. Among the VIPs attending the event on June 30 were former New York City mayor and Trump lawyer Rudolph Giuliani and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, among others. When that same day the couple was stopped in a leafy suburb of Brussels, Belgium, authorities say they found powerful explosives and a detonation device in their car and they were arrested “just in time.” Three people were subsequently arrested in France, and the operation to arrest Assadi and three others at a highway rest stop was taken so seriously by German authorities that they shut down the highway for the period of time it took to make the arrest.
According to German prosecutors, Assadi was no run-of-the-mill diplomat but rather an Iranian intelligence officer operating under diplomatic cover. In a statement, prosecutors tied Assadi to Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), whose tasks “primarily include the intensive observation and combatting of opposition groups inside and outside Iran.”
U.S. officials are pointing to this latest case as they seek to mobilize allies to counter Iran’s support for terrorism around the world. Speaking on background with members of the press en route to Belgium from Saudi Arabia, one senior State Department official made Washington’s concerns very clear.