May 31, 2023 Special Dispatch No. 10639

Oman Serves Iran By Brokering Exchange Deal To Free Iranian Agent Convicted And Imprisoned In Europe For Terrorism

May 31, 2023
Iran, Oman | Special Dispatch No. 10639

On May 26, 2023, Iranian intelligence officer Assadollah Assadi, a diplomat at the Iranian Embassy in Vienna who in February 2021 was convicted on terrorism charges in Belgium and sent to prison for 20 years, was released back to Iran. In return, Tehran freed a Belgian aid worker, Olivier Vendecasteele, who had been arrested in Iran in 2022, convicted of spying in Iran, flogged, and sentenced to 40 years in prison.[1] The exchange deal was brokered by Oman.

The practice of accusing foreigners such as aid workers from humanitarian organizations, academics, and foreign relatives of Iranian citizens of spying against Iran is one that the Iranian regime uses to politically pressure Western countries for various purposes. One main purpose is to obtain the release of Iranian regime officials who committed crimes abroad.

It should be noted that Oman customarily provides Iran with mediation services with the West, both to lend an appearance of legitimacy to the release of Iranian criminals held in the West, such as in this case, as well as in freeing blocked Iranian assets, or in more significant ways such as in the secret 2013 U.S.-Iran negotiations held in Oman in advance of the open JCPOA nuclear deal negotiations.[2]

In a tweet in response to the news of Assadi's release, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian wrote that the "innocent Iranian diplomat" Assadi "had been jailed in Germany and Belgium for about five years illegally and in violation of international law" and thanked "the Sultanate of Oman for its positive efforts in that direction.", May 26, 2023.

The following report examines Assadi's case.

The Case Of Iranian Terrorist "Diplomat" Assadollah Assadi

In February 2021, a Belgian court convicted Assadi of planning, in 2018, a terror bombing attack against a meeting of the France-based National Council of Resistance of Iran, an opposition organization formed by Iranian exiles. The meeting was held in Villepinte, north of Paris, on June 30, 2018, a month after the U.S. withdrew from the JCPOA. The attempted attack was thwarted by the German, Belgian, and French police forces, and, according to Iranian reports, European authorities had received information about it from Israel.[3]

Assadi (Source:, May 11, 2022)

This was the first time that an European court had convicted an Iranian official on terror charges since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

European Court Rules That Iranian Regime Supported The Terror Plot – But European Governments Take No Action Against Iran

The court ruled, in February 2021, that the Iranian regime itself had supported the terror plot, but the European governments took no political steps against Iran in this matter.

Assadi had been posted to the Iranian Embassy in Vienna but, according to the Belgian investigators who arrested him in 2018, he was working for the Iranian Intelligence Ministry and engaging in collecting information on Iranian exiles in Europe. According to the Belgian intelligence documents, Assadi was an Iranian intelligence officer in Department 312, the directorate for internal security in the Iranian Intelligence and Security Ministry; this department is considered a terror organization by the EU.[4]

Assadi refused to testify or to show up for the hearings in Antwerp, claiming diplomatic immunity, but the court rejected his claim.

Arrested In Germany, Sentenced To 20 Years In Prison By Belgium

Belgian police also arrested a couple driving a Mercedes who were found to have 550 grams of explosives and a detonator in their luggage. Belgian explosives experts stated that the bomb was professional quality and would have caused very serious damage.

Over 25,000 people gathered for the meeting, among them senior officials from other countries such as former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, and former Colombian presidential candidate and anti-corruption activist Ingrid Betancourt Pulecio.

Assadi was arrested in Germany a day after the couple's apprehension, and transferred to Belgium. Authorities said that at the time of his arrest he had been on vacation in Germany, where his immunity did not apply.

Although Assadi had operated out of Vienna under diplomatic immunity, the prosecution stated that he had actually served as operational commander of the planned attack. It said that he himself had recruited the couple with the bomb years previously to collect information on Iranian opposition activists in Europe. The investigators said that Assadi had brought the explosives into Austria on a commercial flight from Iran, and then had given the device to the couple when he met them at a Pizza Hut in Luxembourg.


[1], May 26, 2023.

[2] There are also reports on current Omani mediation between the U.S. and Iran on issues related to the JCPOA negotiations and on freeing Iranian funds held in South Korea.

[3], May 9, 2022. See also, May 26, 2023.

[4], February 4, 2021.

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