A protest took place after the foiled plot that targeted the massive opposition rally led by the NCRI in Paris. (Getty)

By Track Persia

November 28, 2020

The Iranian state TV has said that Tehran released British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert in exchange for three Iranians held abroad. It reported on November 25 that the Iranian authorities had released the academic who was serving a 10-year prison sentence for alleged spying, for exchange for three Iranian nationals following more than two years of she spent in the prison.

Ms Moore-Gilbert was held captive for 804 days by the Iranian regime as a pawn in its hostage diplomacy. It falsely and cynically convicted her of spying and sentenced her 10 years in prison, using her life as a bargaining chip to secure the freedom of its terrorists across the globe. The academic detention had strained relations between Iran and the West at a time of already escalating tensions, which reached a fever pitch earlier this year following the American killing of a top Iranian general in Baghdad Qassem Soleimani was leading Qods Force an external wing of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and retaliatory Iranian strikes on an Iraqi military base used by  U.S. forces. Moore-Gilbert had appealed to the Australian government to work harder for her release and wrote a letter to the prime minister saying that she had been subjected to “grievous violations” of her rights, including psychological torture. She said that the reason behind her imprisonment was “to extort” the Australian government.

The three Iranians who were exchanged for Moore-Gilbert had been held in Thailand since 2012 over a bomb plot in 2012. Two of the men, Saeid Moradi and Mohammad Kharzei, were convicted in Thailand in 2013. Moradi was sentenced to life for attempting to murder a police officer, while Kharzei was sentenced to 15 years for possessing explosives. Moradi, a factory technician from Tehran and a former soldier, lost parts of both legs as he tried to flee the villa on a crowded Bangkok street when the explosives he was carrying took off as he was taking them from the house and dropped them in the street as police tried to stop him. The third suspect, Masoud Sedaghatzadeh, was detained in Malaysia. In 2017, a federal court there ordered his extradition to Thailand.

On Thursday, Thai officials said that they had approved the transfer back to Tehran of three Iranians who had been involved in a botched 2012 bomb plot. Israeli and Thai officials said the plot was aimed at Israeli diplomats in Bangkok.  Iran denied the allegations and the men were never charged with terrorism. Israeli officials had no immediate comment on the release of the Iranians.

Chatchom Akapin, Thailand’s deputy attorney general told The Associated Press that Thai authorities had approved the transfer of the prisoners under an agreement with Iran. However, the Thai officials did not say the release was a prisoner swap or what involvement Australia might have had in the arrangement.

Accepting the Iranian regime’s hostage diplomacy by those countries whose nationals are held by the regime is a message to this regime that its hostage diplomacy pays off. Using foreigners as a bargaining chip makes these foreigners see paying a visit to Iran is a horrifying venture that makes them vulnerable to be taken as hostages.

Meanwhile, the news of the release of the Australian-British academic came a day before an Iranian diplomat goes on trial in Belgium on Friday accused of plotting to bomb an opposition rally outside Paris, in a case that has stoked tensions with Tehran.  Belgian authorities said In June 2018 that it had thwarted an attempt to smuggle explosives to France to attack a meeting of one of Iran’s exiled opposition movements. The French government accused later that year Iran’s intelligence service of being behind the operation. The Iranian regime denied the charges.

The target of the plotter was the National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), which includes the People’s Mojahedin of Iran or (MEK), which organised a rally in Villepinte outside Paris on June 30, 2018. Assadi was arrested while he was travelling through Germany where he had no immunity from prosecution, being outside of the country of his diplomatic posting.

When Paris pointed the finger at Iranian intelligence, an Iranian spokesman voiced denial and alleged that opponents of the deal in “certain quarters” were attempting to frame Tehran. The Iranian allegations seem ridiculous and are not serious.

The architect of the plot, Assadollah Assadi, a 48-year-old Iranian diplomat formerly based in Vienna, faces life in prison if convicted. The arrested couple, 36-year-old Nassimeh Naami and 40-year-old Amir Saadouni, join Assadi in the dock, alongside another alleged accomplice, Mehrdad Arefani, 57. All four are charged with attempting to carry out a terrorist attack and taking part in the activity of a terrorist group. All face life sentences.

The trial was held on Friday 27 and to be held again on Thursday next week. The court is then expected to adjourn to consider its verdict before ruling early next year.

What is most prominent in the Belgian police report is that Asadi warns that there are armed groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Syria and Iran, who will monitor the proceedings of the trial, and they will not rest if the verdict comes against him.

Most importantly, the bombing plot of the headquarters of the Iranian opposition conference reveals the methods used by the Iranian regime to threaten European stability, in addition to the Iranian opposition groups in Europe.  France has already imposed sanctions, in light of the regime’s terror case in France, on Iranian officials and banned associations related to Iran and confiscated their property. For its part, Germany included Hezbollah, with its both military and political wings on the list of terrorism, and it launched a campaign against associations and groups which were in contact with Asadi and Iran. However, It is crucial for the European countries which have good relations with Tehran to review their relations with the regime and taking the latter’s terror threats within their borders more seriously.

In any case, the plot of  Asadullah Asadi has wasted Iranian effort to project itself as an international partner in fighting terrorism. Similarly, holding several Westerners on widely criticized espionage charges has become a systematic effort by the Iranian regime to leverage its imprisonment for money or influence in negotiations with the West.

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.