Alexandros Michailidis

World News


Belgium has Joined Europe’s Hall of Shame

Belgium is a country that describes itself as being in the heart of Europe. It hosts the headquarters of the European Parliament and the European Commission. It prides itself on embracing the institutions that have promulgated the EU’s core pillars of freedom, justice, and human rights. With a single stroke, Alexander De Croo, Belgium’s prime minister, and his government have destroyed that legacy and plunged their country into Europe’s Hall of Shame. By freeing Assadollah Assadi, the Iranian diplomat sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in a plan to bomb an Iranian opposition rally in Paris, the Belgian government has scraped the bottom of the barrel of ignominy.

Assadi, and his three co-conspirators, were tried in Belgium in 2021 for attempting to bomb a mass opposition rally at Villepinte, near Paris in 2018. According to the verdict in the Antwerp Court, Assadi was a senior agent of the Iranian regime’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS). He was using the cover of being a diplomat in the Iranian embassy in Vienna to enable him to plan a terrorist attack that would have caused mass casualties on European soil.

Evidence from the Belgian prosecutor showed how Assadi had allegedly brought the professionally assembled bomb on a commercial flight to Vienna from Tehran in his diplomatic bag and passed it, together with an envelope containing €22,000, to two of his co-conspirators. The court was told that Assadi had instructed them how to prime and detonate the device. A third co-conspirator was posted at the rally as a lookout. Last year, Iran’s government saw a Belgian appeal court extend the prison terms of Assadi’s three co-conspirators. Assadi, however, did not appeal, assured by Tehran that they would secure his release.

There is no doubt that Assadi’s terrorist plot was ordered from the highest echelons of the regime, including Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s former president, and Javad Zarif, the then foreign minister. Brussels should have demanded they be held to account, but predictably, Josep Borrell, the European Union’s top diplomat, said nothing and did nothing. He is one of the arch-appeasers of Iran’s government, as is Charles Michel, Belgium’s former prime minister, and now president of the European Council, who has repeatedly confirmed his support for re-opening dialogue with Iran. Neither Borrell nor Michel have issued a statement condemning the scandalous prisoner swap and both have now been joined in the apex appeasement rankings by De Croo and his government.

The recent release of documents hacked from Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, showed how the regime went into overdrive to secure Assadi’s release, claiming diplomatic immunity and when that failed, taking Olivier Vandecasteele, a Belgian humanitarian worker, hostage in Iran, accusing him of spying and sentencing him to 40 years in prison. The documents illuminate how Tehran used this tactic to negotiate a prisoner exchange with Belgium, as far back as 2021. The fact that Alexander De Croo’s government capitulated to this blackmail and did so in open defiance of their own Constitutional Court, which clearly stated in its judgment that the victims of Assadi’s attempted act of terrorism on European soil should be informed before any such prisoner transfer could take place, must surely rank as one of the most reprehensible and egregious acts of appeasement of any government in decades.

Prime Minister De Croo even boasted in a lengthy public statement how he had secured Vandecasteele’s release after 455 days in prison under “unbearable conditions.” He said “Olivier Vandecasteele’s return to Belgium is a relief. A relief for his family, friends, and colleagues.” He made no mention of the fact that he had allowed Assadi to be sent home to a hero’s welcome, under a disgraceful prisoner-swap deal. In July last year, seventy-nine Belgian MPs voted in favour of the scandalous prisoner swap agreement and forty-one voted against it out of the one hundred and thirty-one MPs present. Eleven abstained.

In a statement, the government insisted that it was not surrendering to blackmail and that it was motivated by a desire to prevent a Belgian citizen from rotting in prison. Strenuous efforts to stop the prisoner swap deal, by potential victims of Assadi’s bomb plot, have continued ever since in the Belgian courts. But it seems that in open defiance of the core principles of EU law and justice, the Belgian government feels that it can run a cart and horses through its own legal system and ignore the rulings of its own senior judges.

By succumbing to Tehran’s outrageous hostage diplomacy, De Croo and his government have simply emboldened the mullahs to perpetrate further acts of terror in the EU in the knowledge that they can ensure the release of their terrorists by the simple expedient of taking hostages and committing criminal blackmail. The outrage is compounded by the fact that following Assadi’s trial, the then justice minister in Belgium, Vincent Van Quickenborne, said: “There was no question of a prisoner exchange. We are not going to challenge the principles of our constitutional state.” Quickenborne’s assurances can now be contrasted with the fact that Tehran has been rewarded for using its diplomats as terrorists. This is a shameful betrayal of EU law by Belgium and the next time Tehran plans an attack on European soil, De Croo and his doleful band of appeaser colleagues must surely be held to account. They will have the blood of innocent people on their hands.