The target of the bomb attack, which could be prevented, was a mass gathering of the Iranian opposition grouped in the National Council of Resistance of Iran outside the French capital. Using confidential documents and unpublished photos VRT has been able to reconstruct the events that led to the arrest of three agents in Iran’s employ.
It was in June 2018 that Belgium’s federal judicial police were tipped off by the Belgian state security service. A foreign intelligence service had handed over information suggesting Belgians were involved in the preparation of an atrocity. The US and Israeli intelligence services are both believed to have played a role.
That same month, at a Pizza Hut in Luxembourg City, a man identified as “Daniel” hands Amir S. and Nasimeh N. a parcel. They also receive a mobile phone with an Austrian SIM card and 22,000 euros in cash. Later communications reveal that the couple have familiarised themselves with the workings of a bomb.
Unknown to them the three are constantly being monitored by the security services.
The Belgian-Iranians have been living in Wilrijk (Antwerp Province) for years. In Belgium, outwardly, they actively support the Iranian opposition. This explains how in 2018 the couple make for Villepinte, outside Paris and the big Iranian opposition rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. 15,000 opponents of the regime are expected as well as Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer. The couple volunteered to help in the organisation and as a result received passes allowing them to bypass security.
While still in Belgium, the couple’s car is followed by a special police unit. Police witness how the Iranians adopt diversionary tactics. In Sint-Pieters-Woluwe (Brussels) the police intervene and stop the car and arrest Samir and Nasimeh. The bomb squad discover a bomb consisting of half a kilo of highly explosive TATP in the woman’s toilet bag. A robot succeeds in making an X-ray photo. On the image you can see a wireless detonator and the explosives. The army bomb squad DOVO try to make safe the device. However, it explodes during the operation and an officer, who was standing at a distance of over 100 metres, is slightly injured by the blast.
The bomb is described as “professional” and uses a unique part made by 3D printer. The wireless detonator would have allowed detonation from a distance of “several hundred meters”.
Meanwhile, three days later in Germany, the German security service detain “Daniel” during a stop along a motorway in the vicinity of Frankfurt. “Daniel” is Assadollah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat, the third secretary of the political department of the Iranian embassy in Vienna.
In the car Assadi has rented the security services recover what is described as “a wealth of evidence”. “It was like Ali Baba’s cave” says one of those involved. A notebook contains instructions in Farsi on how to use the bomb that has received the codename Playstation 4.
Texts reveal “Daniel” and the Iranian-Belgian couple had frequently been conversing in code. In recent years the couple each made cash deposits of over 100,000 euros. The exact origin of the funds remained unclear. The three regularly met up at different spots across Europe: Vienna, Salzburg, Munich, Milan and Venice, but also in the Iranian capital Tehran.
On his arrest Assadi invokes his diplomatic immunity. During questioning in Belgium he threatens detectives and says armed groups are ready to act if he is convicted. While still at liberty Assadi is a frequent traveller. He is believed to have collected the bomb during one of his many trips to Tehran.
Examination of the GPS records of a rental Assadi hired in 2017 reveal that the Iranian reconnoitred the Villepin meet during a rally the previous year.
Nasimeh is seen as the lead in the couple. She received recognition as a refugee in 2010, but in violation of the rules managed to travel to Iran on 13 occasions between 2010 and 2018. Her passport isn’t stamped during these visits. Nasimeh tells investigators she thought the package she received from “Daniel” contained “fireworks, intended to make people jump”.
A fourth individual was also arrested in this case. A Belgian, who also attended the Paris rally. On his arrest he is found to possess a mobile phone containing only one number, that of Assadi. The mobile phone’s packaging is recovered from Assadi’s vehicle. Investigators believe the Fourth Man was a back-up agent at the rally.
Belgian intelligence believe Assadi is a secret agent, who is using his status as an Iranian diplomat as cover. He works for MOIS, the Iranian secret service that operates in and out of the country. MOIS features on the EU’s list of terrorist organisations and is credited with attacks on western targets in Iraq. Assadi was stationed in Iraq prior to his Vienna posting.
In its report Belgian intelligence concludes that the three individuals worked in concert to stage an attack on the Iranian opposition. This wasn’t an act by individuals, but an operation ordered by Tehran.
The report forms a flaming indictment of Iran that now stands accused of planning a bomb attack on a hall containing 15,000 opponents of the Tehran regime. If successful, the ramifications of the attack could have been immense. Those present included scores of international dignitaries including President Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, the Colombian presidential hopeful Ingrid Betancourt as well as a former Algerian leader.
The trial of this spy ring starts in Antwerp on Friday. Proceedings will be watched closely in Washington, Tel Aviv, Paris as well as in many other western capitals. If it results in convictions, Iran will be further exposed. The timing of the trial at a moment when a new president takes over in the White House is unfortunate for Iran that had hoped to reach a new international deal allowing it to proceed with nuclear activities.