Saturday , 29 January 2022

The toxic strategies of authoritarian regimes breaking down democracy

November 2020, Assadollah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat based in Vienna was charged with planning and organizing a bomb attack on a gathering of exiled dissident Iranians in Paris, in the summer of 2018. The gathering was organized by the National Council of Resistance (NCRI) the Mojahedin Organization of Iran (MEK) and the meeting would be attended by some tens of thousands of people including British and American politicians, among others; Theresa Villiers (former environment secretary) and Rudy Guiliani (former mayor of New York). Assadi was immediately stripped off his diplomatic immunity following these events and the news engaged politicians and dignitaries worldwide. While in police custody Assadi made repeated threats and warned the Belgian authorities of retaliation by armed groups loyal to the Iranian regime if he was convicted. Assadi refused to appear at court hearings.

In Febuary 2021, Assadi and his colleagues were sentenced to prison, Assadi received 20 years of prison for attempted murder and involvement in terrorism. In addition, France blamed Iran’s intelligence ministry for the plot and acted by expelling an Iranian diplomat, while the EU froze the assets of two Iranian officials. The Iranian regime denied all allegations and insisted that the whole case was fabricated and that Assadi was a victim of a Western plot.

Although this case received a lot of international attention it is unfortunately neither the first nor the last time the world witnesses the extension of Iranian terrorism. Nevertheless, the sentences and responses from Belgium, France and the EU were the first of their kind, this was the first time since the 1979 revolution an Iranian diplomat was going on trial on charges of terrorism in the EU.

The case also unfolded a great deal of new information. In Assadi’s car a notebook was found detailing some 300 locations across 11 European countries where agents of the Iranian regime and Assadi had made previous contact. The locations included restaurants, hotels, embassies and stores. The majority of these places were located in Germany, France and Austria but many locations were also found in Belgium, Hungary, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland and Luxemburg. Furthermore, names and organizations of exiled Iranians, top reporters and Iranian news agencies in the West were detailed and revealed as agents of the Iranian Intelligence ministry.
It was also revealed that Assadi had frequent visits by Reza Lotfi, a senior Iranian official responsible for the overseeing of operations conducted by the MOIS (essentially Iran’s version of MI6, and reporting them back to Iran’s Foreign Ministry. In addition, the police investigation found receipts of payments in the notebook, documents detailing expenses reimbursements, monthly and quarterly salaries as well as computers and laptops issued to agents. The investigators also found six mobile phones, four were used to contact agents and two to make travel bookings, external hard drives and USB sticks containing intelligence information, two GPS and tracking devices as well as 30,000 Euros in cash.
The network of the Iranian espionage and terrorism actions has only been touched upon but the demand of exposing and destroying the network of terrorism has increased since the case of Assadollah Assadi.

Assadi may have failed this time to launch the bomb attack in Paris but he and many more with him have succeeded in running and masterminding an effective spy program in 22 European cities under close supervision of the Iranian regime. The European governments now have to face the issue of holding Iran accountable for these state-sponsored terrorism activities and plans, but the fact of the matter is that no European country has cut real diplomatic ties or halted considerable business contracts with Iran and this is a clear signal to Tehran to proceed as usual. After all this is not the first time Iranian terrorism has been identified on Western soil. Nevertheless, just three days after Assadi’s arrest, the leaders in Austria welcomed Iranian president Hassan Rouhani to Vienna instead of cancelling the visit.

Rouhani visits Vienna a few days after the arrest of Assadi.

The Iranian regime has plenty of opposition groups abroad, however it is a well known fact that these groups are highly fragmented and have very different intentions. There are clear indications that many of these oppositional groups and exiled Iranians are in fact working for the Iranian regime. These methods of infiltration by dictatorial regimes is not at all uncommon. One example reflecting this is Britain’s recent tightening of rules regarding academic subjects that Chinese students are allowed to study in the UK, as an attempt to prevent the theft of sensitive information such as cyber-security, aircraft, military-technology and other information to protect national security. Traditionally these precautions have been targeted towards China and Russia, but the network of infiltration is wider than that, and Western governments are now not only turning their attention towards students with hidden agendas but also towards ordinary citizens who seem to have a clear background or are occupied with what seems to be anti-regime work. For in fact, Sadouni and Naami the couple working with Assadi and who were assigned to plant the bomb at the location of the meeting were Belgian citizens. They received their Iranian passports in Belgium from the Iranian embassy about the same time as they were accepted in Belgium as political refugees. Sadouni and Naami had extensive contact with MOIS agents in Iran when they were “visiting” family. Finally, there were large amounts of money being transferred and spent in these circuits, amounts that should raise red flags and by following the money much can be brought to light.