Iranian diplomat jailed for plotting bomb attack on opposition group in France

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A diplomat has been jailed for planning a terror attack against an exiled Iranian opposition group in France after a bomb was found hidden in a Mercedes.

Assadollah Assadi, who was based at Iran's Austrian embassy, was denied diplomatic immunity because he was on holiday in Germany when he was arrested.

He has now been sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Lawyers for the MEK opposition group claimed Assadi planned the attack at the behest of Iran's highest authorities - but Tehran has denied being involved.

More than half a kilo of the unstable TATP explosive and a detonator was found among luggage in a Mercedes stopped by Belgian police on 30 June 2018.

They had been tipped off by intelligence services about a potential attack on the MEK's annual meeting being held that day in Villepinte, north of Paris.

Bomb disposal experts said the device was professional and could have caused a significant explosion at the event, where an estimated 25,000 people had gathered.

Donald Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was among the guests at the rally, as was former conservative speaker of the US House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, and ex-Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.

Assadi was detained in Germany a day after the bomb was found, and later transferred to Belgium.

Crucially, the court said that as he was on holiday when he was arrested he wasn't entitled to diplomatic immunity.

Belgian authorities said he worked in Iran's 'Department 312', the directorate for internal security, part of the EU's list of terrorist organisations.

Assadi carried the explosives to Austria on a commercial flight from Iran, investigators said.

They said a Pizza Hut in Luxembourg was where he handed the bomb to a couple later arrested in the Mercedes, Amir Saadouni and Nasimeh Naami.

Prosecutors said they were recruited years before by Assadi to obtain information on the opposition group.

They were sentenced to 15 and 18 years respectively.

The MEK (Mujahedeen-e-Khalq) used to be an armed organisation but is now the most structured exiled Iranian opposition group.

Hated by Iranian authorities, it was taken off US and EU terror lists after denouncing violence and forging links with Western politicians. It backs a hard line on Iran and supports US sanctions on the country.

A fourth defendant in the case, Mehrdad Arefani, was jailed for 17 years.

Assadi refused to testify in his trial last year and did not attend Thursday's sentencing in Antwerp.