I have profound respect for our democracy, our institutions, and our European justice system.

Despite being imperfect, they actually work. I’m a living example of that. In June 2018, I was among thousands of officials, human rights activists and ordinary citizens that were the target of an attempted bombing. The terror plot was planned in Tehran and carried out by four Iranian agents.

But for the highly interconnected European intelligence system, I and perhaps hundreds of others, would not be here to tell the tale.

But if there’s one thing that I despise, it’s the sheer poverty of diplomatic principles among some political leaders. As someone who served in the European Parliament for 15 years, I have dealt with European and international affairs firsthand. Throughout the years, I have been truly dismayed to see how dogmatic mindsets have emasculated the terms of diplomacy, tying the hands of decision-makers who wish to respond to extortion with strength and firmness.

In the same way as Adolf Hitler and the Axis powers tested the resolve of world leaders in the 1930s, the clerics in Iran are testing our resolve today, by spreading Islamic extremism around the globe, backing proxy wars in the Middle East, and bragging about their burgeoning nuclear capacity and development of long-range missiles. Ever since the Ayatollahs took power in Tehran, the West has meekly succumbed to their hostage-taking strategy, offering weak-willed terms of appeasement instead of calling them out for their terrorism, tyranny and repression.

In 1986, after coordinating a series of lethal bombings in Paris and having contacts with European terror groups, Vahid Gorji, an attache at the Iranian Embassy in Paris, was detained, just to be subsequently allowed to fly home under escort, as Iran and France severed diplomatic ties. On Aug. 6, 1991, former Iranian Prime Minister Dr. Shapour Bakhtiar was stabbed and killed by three Iranian intelligence agents, namely Fereydoon Boyer-Ahmadi, Ali Vakili-Rad, and Mohammad Azadi. While the two others escaped, Vakili Rad was caught and later granted parole, with French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux signing his deportation order. At Tehran Airport, Vakili-Rad was hailed a “national hero” and welcomed by state officials. 

Anis Naghash, a Lebanese citizen and an agent of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who tried and failed to assassinate Shapour Bakhtiar, was pardoned by the French government 10 years after his arrest and sent back to Iran, where he enjoyed VIP status until his death in February this year. 

In 1994, the French government released Mohsen Sharif Esfahani and Ahmed Taheri, two prime suspects for the April 24, 1990, assassination in Geneva of Dr. Kazem Rajavi, a former Iranian ambassador and human rights activist. Citing “national interest,” France was clearly surrendering to Tehran’s extortion, noted the French newspaper Le Monde.

In 1998, Rahman Dezfouli, another Iranian agent, was arrested by the Spanish police on charges of having contacts with illegal groups. Having an Iranian “service passport” was enough to secure his release. Kazem Darabi, another Iranian intelligence officer, was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Berlin Supreme Court for murdering four Kurdish dissidents in Berlin in 1992. Germany released Darabi on Dec. 10, 2007, and sent him to Iran. Kazem Darabi was triumphantly welcomed.

Mohammad Jafari Sahraroudi, the suspected killer in the July 13, 1988, assassination of Kurdistan Democratic Party leader Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, was arrested by the Austrian police. Once the Iranian regime increased pressure on Vienna, Sahraroudi was released under the pretense of “diplomatic immunity” and returned to Iran. Following the Iraq invasion in 2003, he became an official diplomat and traveled widely across the Middle East.

Unfortunately, this shabby legacy hasn’t been abandoned. While Asadollah Asadi, a registered diplomat from the Iranian embassy in Vienna, and the mastermind behind the bomb plot on the 2018 Free Iran Summit that I attended, was being investigated and tried by the Belgian judiciary, Josep Borrell, the EU foreign policy chief, was making sure Tehran wasn’t annoyed.

In July 2021, Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa endorsed an inquiry into the 1988 genocidal massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in Iran, while delivering a video address to the annual Free Iran World Summit, a global event organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). Borrell was quick to denounce the Slovenian PM’s statements, saying they did not reflect the official standing of the EU. Nothing could be more certain to portray EU weakness and encourage Tehran’s aggression. So long as Iranian terrorists continue to enjoy impunity on European soil, Islamic extremism will continue to jeopardize the security of our citizens and undermine our system of justice.

In Sweden, Hamid Noury, a former prison official during the 1988 massacre of political prisoners in Iran, is being tried for his role in that atrocity. Dozens of witnesses have given testimony about Noury’s active participation in the arbitrary executions of men, women and even teenagers.

This week, three of the 2018 bombers are using the Belgian justice system to appeal their sentences and to try to hold on to their citizenship. In the first trial, the Antwerp court had stripped them of Belgian nationality and given them long jail terms. When the terrorist diplomat Assadollah Assadi was arrested, lots of evidence and information was seized by the police that revealed a large web of Iranian spies and sleeper cells across the European continent. Failing to dismantle this network by Interpol or other European agencies is also something that should keep us awake at night. 

As someone who has watched so many wonderful lives being destroyed by terrorism and as a victim of the Iranian regime’s terror cells myself, I strongly urge our European colleagues to stand up and react. For too long, our judicial systems and our governments have been victims of a policy of cowardice and appeasement. As Winston Churchill famously said: “Appeasement if feeding the crocodile, hoping he will eat you last.”

Struan Stevenson is the Coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change (CiC). He was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), president of the Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Struan Stevenson is the Coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change (CiC). He was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), president of the Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and chairman of the Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14). 

Struan is also Chair of the ‘In Search of Justice’ (ISJ) committee on the protection of political freedoms in Iran. He is an international lecturer on the Middle East and is also president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA).