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World News

In European first, Iranians face trial over suspected bomb plot

PARIS (Reuters) - An Iranian diplomat and three other Iranians go on trial in Antwerp, Belgium on Friday for planning to bomb a 2018 meeting in France of an exiled opposition group, the first time an EU country has put an Iranian official on trial for terrorism.

Belgian prosecutors charged Vienna-based diplomat Assadolah Assadi and the three others with planning an attack on a rally of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). The rally’s keynote address was given by U.S. President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

Assadi was the third counsellor at Iran’s embassy in Vienna. French officials have said he was in charge of intelligence in southern Europe and was acting on orders from Tehran.

Tehran has repeatedly dismissed the charges, calling the attack allegations a “false flag” stunt by the NCRI, which it considers a terrorist group.

Assadi has not commented on the charges. His lawyer has said Assadi would explain himself at his trial. Assadi warned authorities in March of possible retaliation by unidentified groups if he is found guilty, according to a police document obtained by Reuters.

Authorities say the attack was thwarted by a coordinated operation between French, German and Belgian security services.

Assadi was arrested while on holiday in Germany and handed over to Belgium, where two of his suspected accomplices had been arrested with half a kilo of the explosive TATP and a detonator.

According to documents reviewed by Reuters, Belgian authorities believe Assadi brought the explosives from Tehran to Vienna on a commercial flight.

“The attack plan was conceived in the name of Iran and under its leadership. It was not a personal initiative by Assadi,” Jaak Raes, head of the Belgium’s state security service (VSSE), said in a letter to the prosecutor dated Feb. 2, 2020.

France said Iran’s intelligence ministry was behind the plot and expelled an Iranian diplomat. The EU froze the assets of an Iranian intelligence unit and officials.

European countries have blamed Iran for other suspected plots against dissidents, including two killings in the Netherlands in 2015 and 2017 and a foiled assassination in Denmark. Iran has denied involvement, saying the accusations were intended to damage EU-Iran relations.

Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Peter Graff

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