April 28, 2023 | Flash Brief

Belgium Weighs Iran’s Hostage Swap Request, Convicted Diplomat for Aid Worker

April 28, 2023 | Flash Brief

Belgium Weighs Iran’s Hostage Swap Request, Convicted Diplomat for Aid Worker

Latest Developments

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said on April 27 that his government is examining a request by Tehran to release convicted terrorist mastermind and jailed Iranian diplomat Asadollah Assadi in exchange for jailed Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele. The statement came a day after Iran falsely claimed it had reached a deal with Brussels for precisely such an exchange. Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne said Tehran deliberately lied “to manipulate and confuse an innocent compatriot and his family.”

Assadi is currently serving a 20-year prison term in Belgium for plotting to bomb an Iranian opposition rally in Paris in 2018. In January 2023, Tehran sentenced Vandecasteele to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes on false charges of espionage against Iran, collaborating with the U.S. government, smuggling foreign currency, and money laundering. In reality, Tehran captured Vandecasteele to use him as a hostage for a prisoner exchange.

Expert Analysis

“The regime in Tehran has turned hostage-taking into a pillar of its foreign policy. As long as Westerners take the risk to go to Iran and Western governments surrender to the regime’s demands to release their citizens, the hostage-taking machine continues to work.” Saeed Ghasseminejad, FDD Senior Iran and Financial Economics Advisor

“This is yet another case of Iran’s brazen extortion attempts to release the convicted mastermind of the plot to assassinate members of the Iranian diaspora. The Islamic Republic of Iran’s potent espionage and assassination network in Europe has operated largely without interruption since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, except when European governments broke diplomatic relations with Tehran for almost a year after the 1992 Mykonos assassinations in Berlin. If Europe wants to deter further blackmail, it must change the regime’s calculus. Those who issue the orders at the higher echelons must feel the cost of Tehran’s malign activities, not just the mid-level officials who carry them out. Otherwise, Europe — and the U.S. — can expect more of the same.” Toby Dershowitz, FDD Senior Vice President for Government Relations and Strategy

Assadi’s Plot

Assadi, the third-ranking official in Iran’s embassy in Vienna, was previously a member of Tehran’s Ministry of Intelligence, where he monitored opposition groups both inside and outside Iran. In 2018, Assadi recruited a Belgian couple with Iranian roots to plant explosives at a 25,000-person gathering in France organized by the exiled opposition group known as the Mojahedin-e-Khalq. Speakers at the conference included former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and former Senator Robert Torricelli.

Vandecasteele’s Detention

Iran arrested Vandecasteele in February 2022 and sent him to the regime’s notorious Evin Prison, where he remained in solitary confinement; he now is at an unknown location. The judiciary did not allow him access to a lawyer during a brief trial devoid of due process. Vandecasteele also suffers from acute health problems that remain unaddressed. In November 2022, Vandecasteele conducted a two-week hunger strike.

U.S., Iran May Be Negotiating Payoff for American Hostages,” FDD Flash Brief

Iran’s Long, Bloody History of Terror and Espionage in Europe,” by Toby Dershowitz and Benjamin Weinthal


Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran-backed Terrorism