EU must respond firmly to Tehran terror plot on European soil

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif welcomes EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini before a joint press conference, Tehran, Iran, 16 April 2016. [EPA/EFE]

The EU’s eagerness to further unconditional engagements with Iran seems to have only made Europe more vulnerable to state sponsored terrorism, writes Alejo Vidal-Quadras.

Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a Spanish professor of atomic and nuclear physics, was vice-president of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014. He is currently the president of the Brussels-based International Committee In Search of Justice (ISJ).

During the weekend of 30 June – 1 July, four suspects were arrested in Belgium, France and Germany over a terror attack plot to bomb the grand gathering of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) in Villepinte, outside Paris. The keynote speaker at the event was Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi.

An Iranian-Belgian couple were arrested in Belgium with 500 grams of TATP (a powerful home-made explosive) and a detonation device in their vehicle, on their way to carry out the attack. To make matters more serious, the individual arrested in Germany, Mr Assadollah Assadi, who gave the device to the couple, is an accredited Iranian diplomat, the 3rd counsellor of the Islamic Republic’s mission in Vienna. Another Iranian was also arrested in France and will be extradited to Belgium.

After such a serious threat, luckily halted by the efficient work and cooperation of intelligence agencies and security forces of at least four EU member states, we could have expected a firm and forceful response from our European External Action Service (EEAS), who should have condemned the hostile and terrorist action of a diplomat accredited by a European government. However, not only has there been a deafening silence on the matter from the EU; there are signs that appeasement continues towards a regime that plotted to commit a terrorist attack in a European capital. How did we reach this point?

The American administration’s decision to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or the Iran Nuclear Deal, last May, and reinstate all sanctions previously imposed on Iran’s regime caused an avalanche of diplomatic actions to save what Ms Federica Mogherini sees as her main achievement as EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The actions taken by the European Commission include tools to protect European investments in Iran from secondary sanctions and “confidence building” measures, with Commissioners flying to Tehran to reassure the very nervous theocracy of the mullahs.

And while European leaders keep taking desperate measures to save the nuclear deal, it is the leaders of the Islamic Republic who find themselves in a truly desperate position, as not only is the American administration’s new policy taking a great toll on the Iranian economy, but also there are growing protests, uprisings and a chaotic internal situation that has been escalating in recent months.

Starting last December, Iran has seen a wave of unrest like it had not seen since at least 2009. Workers, students, farmers, women and unions have been flooding the streets in protests that first had economic demands but quickly turned very political with slogans like “death to the dictator” resounding on the streets of cities of all sizes throughout Iran. The myth of the regime’s supposed stability that was the basis for the the EU’s policy of appeasement has been contested by the Iranian people on the streets.

This critical situation has spurred the bellicosity of the regime which, in a desperate attempt to thwart their opposition, decided to commit an ISIS-style terrorist attack in the outskirts of Paris that could not only have injured many European citizens but also important dignitaries from all over the world including Rudy Giuliani, Ingrid Betancourt, Giulio Terzi, Bernard Kouchner, Stephen Harper and many others all of who were present in the Villepinte event.

It is important to remember that this kind of action is not new. In 1997 EU withdrew its ambassadors from Iran and expelled Iranian intelligence agents from Europe following the infamous Berlin Mykonos restaurant assassinations of four Iranian-Kurdish dissidents. A German court had issued an international arrest warrant for the then Iranian Intelligence Minister. Other opposition members have been assassinated in Europe by individuals suspected of being agents of the regime, such as the cases of Dr Kazem Rajavi, NCRI representative in Geneva and former Iranian ambassador in the UN, gunned down in 1990, Kurdish leader Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou in Vienna in 1989 or Mohammad Hossein Naqdi, NCRI envoy and former diplomat murdered in Rome in 1998.

This month, Dutch intelligence services announced that the Netherlands recently expelled two Iranian diplomats without elaborating on the reasons. Experts have hinted this to be linked with suspicious murders of Iranian dissidents in the country last year.

The EU’s eagerness to further unconditional engagements with Iran seems to have only made Europe more vulnerable to state sponsored terrorism, as Iran has used its ease of access to the European Union countries for espionage and terror plots that jeopardize the lives of European citizens. The EU needs to wake up. We should follow up the brave actions of our intelligence and police services with firm and decisive political action. We could respond by downgrading our diplomatic relations and expelling agents that are linked to the Iranian Intelligence Ministry in order to prevent more terrorist attacks on European soil.

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