A diplomat has been sentenced to 20 years in prison by a court in Belgium over a foiled bombing in the first trial of an Iranian official for suspected terrorism in the European Union since Iran's 1979 revolution.
Vienna-based diplomat Assadolah Assadi was found guilty on February 4 of attempted terrorism after a plot to bomb a rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an exiled opposition group, near Paris in June 2018.
Three other defendants also received jail sentences.
The planned attack on the rally was thwarted by a coordinated operation between French, German, and Belgian security services.
Assadi, who refused to appear in court, invoking his diplomatic status, was arrested while on holiday in Germany and handed over to Belgium.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh "strongly" condemned the sentencing, calling it "illegal and a clear violation of international law, especially the 1961 Vienna Convention," according to state TV.
However, prosecution lawyer Georges-Henri Beauthier said the ruling shows that "a diplomat doesn't have immunity for criminal acts...and the responsibility of the Iranian state in what could have been carnage."
Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne said that "the justice system has ruled on facts of terrorism and made a clear statement about it."
Rik Vanreusel, a lawyer for one of the civil parties, said it was "an historic day...a day of justice.”
"We can be proud of brave little Belgium, who decided not to just expel diplomats but to prosecute, imprison, and condemn heinous international acts of terrorism," Vanreusel told reporters.
Iran has repeatedly dismissed the charges, saying the allegations by the NCRI, which Tehran considers a terrorist group, are false.
The NCRI is the political wing of the exiled Iranian opposition group Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an exiled opposition group that is seeking to overthrow the Islamic republic.
The 2018 rally's keynote address was given by Rudy Giuliani, an ex-mayor of New York City who has served as former U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer. Newt Gingrich, an erstwhile conservative speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt were also among prominent guests at the event.
The United States considered the MEK a terrorist group until 2012. Its designation was removed following a lobbying campaign and pledges to end its violent militancy. Giuliani is among those who lobbied on its behalf.
French officials have said Assadi was in charge of intelligence in southern Europe and was acting on orders from Tehran.
Two of Assadi's suspected accomplices were arrested in Belgium in possession of explosives and a detonator.
European countries have blamed Iran for other suspected moves against dissidents, including two killings in the Netherlands in 2015 and 2017 and a foiled assassination in Denmark. Tehran has denied involvement.