More than two weeks has passed since a Belgian court found the Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi guilty of plotting to commit terrorist murder by bombing the “Free Iran” gathering organised by the Iranian opposition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), on 30 June 2018 outside of Paris, writes Jim Higgins.
Assadi served as third counsellor at the Iranian embassy in Vienna until being arrested one day after the date of his planned attack. His arrest was preceded by that of two co-conspirators, an Iranian-Belgian couple, who had been found in possession of 500 grams of the explosive TATP while trying to cross from Belgium into France.
The verdict announced on 4 February stemmed from a trial that began in November. Prior to the trial, a two-year investigation conclusively established that the diplomat had personally provided his co-conspirators with the bomb, along with instructions to place it as close as possible to the keynote speaker at the targeted opposition rally. That speaker was NCRI President Maryam Rajavi, who leads the pro-democracy opposition coalition.
As well as establishing the direct involvement of a high-ranking Iranian diplomat, the recently-concluded terror trial made it absolutely clear that ultimate responsibility for the plot lies with the uppermost leadership of the Islamic Republic. In a report that was released last year, the Belgian National Security Service said: “The plans for the attack were developed in the name of Iran at the request of its leadership. Assadi didn’t initiate the plans himself.”
While some policymakers may be tempted to suggest that the matter has been concluded with Assadi’s conviction, the reality is that his actions of three years ago represent only one example of a much broader pattern. Assadi is the first Iranian diplomat to actually face charges as a result of his ties to terrorism. But as evidenced by the fact that other diplomats had been expelled from Europe earlier in 2018, he is by no means the first such individual to be credibly accused of those ties.
What’s more, the proceedings in his case revealed evidence that Assadi’s diplomatic position placed him at the head of a network of operatives that extended far beyond the co-conspirators in his plot against the NCRI. Documents recovered from his vehicle indicated that he had maintained contact and delivered cash payments to assets in at least 11 European countries while also taking notes about a number of points of interest all across the continent.
However, both the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security, Josep Borrell, have remained silent on this threat and are yet to condemn and respond to the Iranian diplomat’s conviction on a terrorism charge.
This is disconcerting given the EU’s repeated promise that the nuclear deal known as the JCPOA would not prevent it from addressing Iran’s mischiefs in other areas of serious concerns such as terrorism and human rights violations.
These concerns are shared by many senior European politicians and experts on Iran who are critical of the EU’s lack of response to the Iranian regime’s state terrorism on European soil.
Ahead of the meeting of the EU Foreign Ministers in Brussels on 22 February, a Brussels-registered NGO, the International Committee of In Search of Justice (ISJ) sent a letter to the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, criticising the continued silence by EU and Mr Borrell on this outrage, and urging them to intervene without delay.
The ISJ letter was signed by my former colleagues in the European Parliament, former EP Vice-President, Dr Alejo Vidal Quadras, Struan Stevenson, Paulo Casaca and Giulio Terzi, former foreign minister of Italy.
In their letter, which I fully endorse, the ISJ demanded action against Javad Zarif for his role in the murderous bomb plot because as Iran’s foreign minister, he oversees and is responsible for the activities of Iranian diplomats.
“There can surely be no further ‘business-as-usual’ with a regime that uses terrorism as statecraft. It is absolutely essential for the EU to take steps against the Iranian regime such as closing its embassies and making all future diplomatic relations contingent on Iran ending its terrorism on European soil”, the ISJ wrote and added.
“It is worth noting that back in 1997, following the assassination of 4 Iranian dissidents by Iranian agents in the Mykonos Restaurant in Berlin, the EU Council and Presidency issued robust letters of condemnation and asked member states to recall their ambassadors in protest.”
Assadi’s guilty verdict justifies reviving this demand, and it ought to make the overlap between Iran’s terrorist networks and diplomatic infrastructure clear to an even broader cross-section of Western policymakers and European leaders.
With the Iranian diplomat now facing many years in prison, the work of dismantling his terror network – and others like it – has only just begun.
Given its immediate threat to civilians in Europe and the overall security of the EU, countering Iran’s state terrorism must now become a top priority for the EU and EU leaders.
Jim Higgins is an Irish former Fine Gael politician. He served as a senator, MP, and MEP.
Belgian artist's 'portable oasis' creates COVID-free bubble for one
When governments around Europe told people to create a "bubble" to limit their social contacts during the COVID-19 pandemic, this was probably not what they had in mind, write Bart Biesemans and Clement Rossignol.
Alain Verschueren, a Belgian artist and social worker, has been strolling through the capital Brussels wearing a "portable oasis" - a plexiglass mini-greenhouse which rests on his shoulders, cocooning him in a bubble of air purified by the aromatic plants inside.
Verschueren, 61, developed the idea 15 years ago, inspired by the lush oases in Tunisia where he had previously worked. In a city where face coverings are mandatory to curb the spread of COVID-19, his invention has gained a new lease of life.
"It was about creating a bubble in which I could lock myself in, to cut myself off a world that I found too dull, too noisy or smelly," Verschueren said, adding that he has asthma and finds breathing within his contraption more comfortable than wearing a facemask.
Belgian artist Alain Verschueren wears his "Portable Oasis" while performing in a street, saying he wanted to be in his bubble in the middle of the city, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Brussels, Belgium 16 April. REUTERS/Yves Herman
"As time went by, I noticed that people were coming up to me and talking to me. This isolation became much more a way of connecting," he said.
Onlookers in Brussels appeared amused and confused by the man wandering between the shops - mostly closed due to COVID-19 restrictions - encased in a pod of thyme, rosemary and lavender plants.
"Is it a greenhouse? Is it for the bees? Is it for the plants? We don't know, but it's a good idea," Charlie Elkiess, a retired jeweller, told Reuters.
Verschueren said he hoped to encourage people to take better care of the environment, to reduce the need to protect ourselves from air and noise pollution.
Indo-Pacific: Council adopts conclusions on EU strategy for co-operation
The Council approved conclusions on an EU strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, setting out the EU’s intention to reinforce its strategic focus, presence and actions in this region of prime strategic importance for EU interests. The aim is to contribute to regional stability, security, prosperity and sustainable development, at a time of rising challenges and tensions in the region.
The renewed EU commitment to the Indo-Pacific, a region spanning from the east coast of Africa to the Pacific island states, will have a long-term focus and will be based on upholding democracy, human rights, the rule of law and respect for international law.
Current dynamics in the Indo-Pacific have given rise to intense geopolitical competition adding to increasing tensions on trade and supply chains as well as in technological, political and security areas. Human rights are also being challenged. These developments increasingly threaten the stability and security of the region and beyond, directly impacting on the EU’s interests.
Consequently, the EU’s approach and engagement will look to foster a rules-based international order, a level playing field, as well as an open and fair environment for trade and investment, reciprocity, the strengthening of resilience, tackling climate change and supporting connectivity with the EU. Free and open maritime supply routes in full compliance with international law remain crucial. The EU will look to work together with its partners in the Indo-Pacific on these issues of common interest.
The EU will continue to develop partnerships in the areas of security and defence, including to address maritime security, malicious cyber activities, disinformation, emerging technologies, terrorism, and organized crime.
The EU and its regional partners will also work together in order to mitigate the economic and human effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and work towards ensuring an inclusive and sustainable socio-economic recovery.
The Council tasked the High Representative and the Commission with putting forward a Joint Communication on co-operation in the Indo-Pacific by September 2021.
The conclusions were adopted by the Council by written procedure.
Conference on the Future of Europe: Make your voice heard
Share your views on the EU, organize events across Europe and discuss with others through the new digital platform on the Conference on the Future of Europe, EU affairs.
Launched on 19 April, the platform is the multilingual hub of the Conference on the Future of Europe that will allow people to get involved and suggest what changes need to take place in the EU. Europeans will also be able to see what others propose, comment on them and endorse ideas.
The EU institutions have committed to listening to what people say and to following up on the recommendations made. The Conference is expected to reach conclusions by the spring of 2022.
How do you take part?
Choose a topic that interests you. It could be anything from climate change to digital issues or EU democracy. If you don’t see a category with your topic, share your opinion in the Other Ideas category.
Once you are in a specific category, you can read the introduction and explore some useful links. On the Ideas tab, you can share your views and find the ideas of others. Join the discussion by leaving a comment, or vote for ideas you like so that more people can find them.
You can submit your comment in any of the EU's official 24 languages. All comments can be translated automatically in any of the other languages.
Under the Events tab, you can explore events organised online or near you, register for an event or prepare your own.
The platform fully respects users’ privacy and EU data protection rules.
What happens when you submit an opinion?
The submitted opinions and the debate they initiate will be the basis for discussions in citizens’ panels that will be organised across the EU at regional, national and European level. These panels will include people from different backgrounds so that they can be representative of the whole population of the EU.
The conclusions of the different panels will be then presented at a plenary session of the Conference, which will bring together citizens, representatives of EU institutions and national parliaments.
Join the discussion on social media about the Conference with the hashtag #TheFutureIsYours.
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