FATAL WRIT An Account of Murders and Cover-ups 2000

Executive Summary

This study deals with the repercussions of a series of brutal murders in the Iranian capital, Tehran at the end of 1998, later to be described in the Iranian media as the "chain murders".

The victims were intellectuals who posed no conceivable threat to the security of the Iranian regime. Following widespread public concern, 23 people were arrested in January 1999, and in April, four of the detainees were mentioned by name. The most prominent was Sa'eed Emami, a deputy Intelligence Minister named as the ringleader of the murder gang. He committed suicide in Evin Prison in mysterious circumstances, after recording a confession, only excerpts from which have ever been published. The surviving detainees were held until April 2000, when they were released without trial.

Throughout 1999, and into the beginning of 2000, there was a lively discussion in the Iranian media of the background to the chain murders, their links to previous killings of opponents of the regime at home and abroad, and the extent to which very senior officials were involved in these crimes. When the discussion threatened to get out of hand, and the name of former President Rafsanjani began to appear in the frame, many newspapers were closed down.

The whole debate had been cast in the form of a dispute between 'liberals' and 'hardliners' about the responsibility for the assassination policy. It is no longer denied that agents of the regime killed dissidents such as former Prime Minister Shapour Bakhtiar, Kurdish leader Abdurrahman Ghassemlou and NCRI's representative in Switzerland Kazem Rajavi, but the two factions each blamed the other, while stopping short of naming the masterminds.

The victims of the chain murders were dissidents and intellectuals who were more or less tolerated and survived years of oppression, but then paradoxically became victims in the supposedly more liberal era of Khatami's Presidency.

One possible explanation was that in order to challenge President Khatami, the 'hardliners' decided to kill a few harmless dissidents, to show that his 'liberal' policy was leading to insecurity. Another and more plausible view was that the assassinations were an inevitable component of the mullahs' strategy to retain their power over the state. While the 8os were stained with mass executions, the last decade was predominantly one of single killings, both judicial and extra-judicial, of anybody seen as a potential threat to theocratic dictatorship. According to this theory, all other ideologies were dangerous and had to be eliminated, even when their exponents had no mass following, and the targeting of well-known individuals, from Bishop Tateos Michaelian to Dariush Forouhar, had the effect of warning all opponents to keep with certain limits

Was there really any political will by Khatami's government to expose the truth and bring the perpetrators to justice? The number of abortive investigations, the failure to bring any persons to trial, the acceptance of the unlikely story of Sa'eed Emami's suicide, and the inexplicable neglect to interrogate the ministers who were in charge over the decade of assassinations and terrorist outrages, indicate that the authorities were going through the motions, for the sake of appearances. There was never any firm intention of uncovering the full background to the chain murders, because the revelations would have undermined the foundations of the regime.

The Chain Murders

When 70-year-old dissident Dariush Forouhar and his 54-year old wife, Parvaneh, were brutally murdered at the end of 1998, their flat was under 24-hour surveillance and the crime was videotaped by the security forces. The authorities knew who the assassins were, and they also knew who killed the poet Mohammad Mokhtari, and Mohammad Pouyandeh, an essayist and translator.

Arrests were made of some 20 people allegedly responsible for these murders alone, but the violent deaths of 80 other dissidents over the previous decade were still unexplained.

At first, officials blamed foreign elements and the main Iranian opposition group, the People's Mojahedin, even after the Ministry of Intelligence admitted that some of its agents had been the perpetrators. The agents, under ringleader Sa'eed Emami, a deputy of Minister Intelligence, were said to be rogue elements influenced by Zionists.

Mr Emami recorded a confession, but then allegedly committed suicide in Evin Prison by drinking hair remover containing arsenic. He had previously recorded a confession, but various undertakings that it would be shown on TV remain unfulfilled.

Eighteen months after the latest round of the political killings, the trail has gone cold. None of the assassins have been brought to court. Emadoddin Baghi, a close ally of President Khatami (and who was recently jailed), says that some are intent on reviewing the handful of recent murders to put an end to the case, since opening previous cases endangers the regime. He believes, however, that it is not possible to keep the secrets of crimes even if the enemies of the revolution and the Islamic Republic exploit them.

This paper argues that, taking into account the power structure within the ruling clerical establishment, the numerous political assassinations at home and abroad in the last decade could not have been known to just a few people or a small faction. This is why, although each faction is keen to exploit the chain murders to its own advantage in the power struggle between them, neither wants to uncover the whole truth. At the end of 1999, while the media were still relatively free, the pro-Khatami press were saying frankly that it was in their interest to put an end to the case of suspicious killings, and not to pursue leads above the level of Emami. It was argued, as many in the West did also, that reformists were pursuing change, and anything that threatened the security of the county was dangerous for them as well. In other words, preference was to be given to pragmatism over justice; dozens of murders should be covered up, for the sake of the reform process.


Since the revolution of 1979, Iran has been one of the leading countries in the number of official executions, and in the perpetration of extra-judicial killings all over the world. These matters have been covered routinely in the reports of successive UN Rapporteurs on Iran, and in the US State Department's annual surveys of world terrorism, without arousing any disturbance of the political scene in Iran. The "chain murders", however, triggered off a far-reaching debate, and acted as a catalyst for unsettling rivalries which have not yet played themselves out.

Although the Iranian regime's officials insist that a small group without the knowledge of even more senior Intelligence or other officials carried out the four political killings, nobody believes their story. It is inconceivable that dozens of murders could have been perpetrated over a period of many years and not even one of the assassins arrested, if the conspirators were not shielded by very senior and powerful protectors. None of the present leaders of the regime are interested in real transparency, because the unmasking of the top conspirators would be likely to sap the very foundations of the clerical state.

For the last few years, during which an intense the power struggle has been going on between the two wings of the regime, there had been an unwritten code of conduct adhered to by all protagonists. Former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, for many years considered to be acceptable to all shades of opinion, has now come under attack, and the field of criticism extends even beyond the political murders, into what had been forbidden zones, such as criticism of the war policy. Rafsanjani was accused of being responsible for continuation of the war after the capture of Khorramshahr in 1982, resulting in the death of hundreds of thousands of the best children of Iran, leaving thousands disabled, and causing billions of dollars worth of damages.

This issue is so perilous for the regime that even Khatami's camp rallied in support of Rafsanjani, warning that there should be no more references to "the sacred war". Questioning the legitimacy of the war from within the regime would be disastrous, because it was Khomeini himself who refused to make peace. Those who suffered, or were bereaved, might call the heirs of Khomeini to account if the prolongation of the war now appears to have been unnecessary.

Another important issue formerly considered being within the forbidden /.one, is the murders of Christian priests in 1994. The whole world was shocked at the horrific killing of three Christian leaders and the bomb explosion in the same year at the holy shrine of Imam Reza in Mashad (northeast of Iran), which resulted in the death and injury of many pilgrims. At the time, the authorities framed three women for these crimes, which they confessed the Mojahedin had ordered them to commit.

Five years later, Abdollah Nouri a member of the Expediency Council and of the National Security Council at the time of the killings, spilled the beans at his trial in November 1999 that the Intelligence Ministry was responsible for those murders.

It also emerged that the Intelligence Ministry orchestrated the misinformation campaign of the regime regarding these crimes.

Despite all the circumstantial evidence, the mullahs always denied their role in terrorism abroad, a view accepted by the European governments at least up to the time when Ali Fallahian, then Minister of Intelligence, was nnmed as the mastermind behind the notorious Mykonos murders in (Jermany. But now, Ruhollah Hosseinian, one of the regime's prominent clerics, quotes Sa'eed Emami as having strongly believed that opponents of the Islamic Republic must be killed. Emami was in charge of security and wus involved in perhaps hundreds of operations against the Mojahedin outside Iran, including the 1995 bombing of the Mojahedin's central office In Baghdad. Former president Hashemi Rafsanjani also acknowledged that the weapons confiscated in Belgium in 1996 were sent by the Ministry of Intelligence. The latest defector, Ahmad Huhbahani, who was responsible for liaison with the Ministry of Intelligence within President Rafsanjani's office, has admitted that he personally murdered the Kurdish leader Abdurrahman Ghassemlou.

Three years after the election of Mohammad Khatami as president, there are still many in the West who cling to the hope that his success, and the evidence of support for his faction at the Majlis elections this year, mean that there is a process of evolution in Iran, towards a more democratic, secular, pluralist system of government in Iran. The attempted assassination of Sa'eed Hajjarian, a close adviser to Khatami, was not a good sign for hope for peaceful transition, however. It would be naive to assume that either faction would open up the political space for opponents of theocracy.

"Silence is a satanic policy" Bishop Haik Hovsepian-Mehr appealed to the world, before he was silenced by an assassin's bullet in 1994. His warning has been vindicated again and again by the incessant use of murder as a tool of politics in Iran since his death, up to the present day. The Iranian people deserve better than this, and we are morally obliged to raise our voice in support of the bereaved. Let not the victims of the chain murderers to have died in vain.



The Iranian Revolution, Then and Now - Dariush Zahedi, 2000

Oppositional Forces in the Pahlavi Era -- The Oppositional Forces: The Mojahedin

The Sazeman-e Mojahedin-e Khalgh (Organization of People's Crusaders) was founded in 1965 by six former members of the Liberation Movement, including Mohammad Hanifzadeh, Saeed Mohsen, Mohammad Asgarizadeh, Rasoul Moshkinfam, Ali Asghar Badizadegan, and Ahmad Rezai. Virtually all the founding members were either university students or recent graduates with majors in technical fields who had become disgruntled with the Liberation Movement's moderate stance and interpretation of Islam as well as its strategy of peaceful struggle against the shah's regime. Accordingly, they devised a radical interpretation of Islam and adopted the strategy of armed struggle in order to dislodge the Pahlavi regime (Abrahamian, 1982, p. 489; Foran, 1993, p. 373; Milani, 1994, p. 83;Keddie, 1981, p. 238).

Sharing many common features with the writings and declarations of Ali Shariati, a nonclerical Islamist theoretician, the Mojahedin's ideology was devised through the merging of certain aspects of Shia Islam with those of Marxism. Like Shariati, the Mojahedin argued that true Moslems, instead of concentrating on the ritualistic and ceremonial aspects of their religion, must emulate the example of Imam Hossein, who sacrificed his life in the struggle against tyranny and injustice. The Mojahedin maintained that the forces of injustice in the modern world were embodied in arbitrary, despotic rule as well as imperialism and capitalism. Echoing the arguments of Shariati, the Mojahedin held that "it was the duty of all Muslims to continue [Imam Hussein's] struggle to create a classless society and destroy all forms of oppression ... [including] imperialism, capitalism, despotism, and conservative clericalism" (Abrahamian, 1982, p. 489; Foran, 1993, p. 373; Keddie, 1981, p. 238; Milani, 1994, p. 83). In a highly innovative and unlikely departure from tradition, the Mojahedin argued that the Nezam-e Tawhid (monotheistic order), which the Prophet and the Imams had endeavored to establish, "was a commonwealth fully united by virtue of being 'classless' and striving for the common good as well as the fact that it worships only one God" (Keddie, 1981, p. 238). Thus, while embracing the Marxist-Leninist political economy (including the appropriateness of the notions of class struggle and the exploitative nature of capitalism as well as the necessity of socializing the means of production and combating imperialism), they continued to regard Islam as the only ideology capable of inciting the masses to rebellion against the monarchical order (Boroujerdi, 1996, pp. 117, 119).

Yet the Mojahedin claimed that true believers do not require any guidance from the ulama, whom they generally held in contempt as agents of tyranny and exploitation, either during the struggle for the achievement of the just order or after its realization. Shariati, whom the Mojahedin revered intensely, had made the following assertion in one of his anticlerical declarations: "If Mossadeq's glory was to define an economy without oil revenue, my pride is to define an Islam without the rowhaniat [ulama]" (quoted in Ehsani, 1999b, p. 48). Consequently, they "developed a line of argument whose logical conclusion was to make the whole religious establishment redundant" (Abrahamian, 1989, p. 122). Instead, according to Ahmad Rezai, one of the organization's founders and primary ideologues, "a group of pious and knowledgeable men [should] take over the leadership and power and .. . move the society towards Islam. This group will emerge from the toiling class" (quoted in Bashiriyeh, 1984, p. 73). However, the group's leadership, its devoted rank-and-file members, and its sizable sympathizers (many of whom were inadvertently attracted, thanks to Shariati's sermons) came primarily from the ranks of young Shia intelligentsia and students. Not surprisingly, these individuals had been raised in mostly religiously and traditionally inclined Shia lower- and middle-class (mostly bazaari) families.

In the summer of 1971, the Mojahedin made its existence as an underground guerrilla organization public by declaring open warfare against the regime. The group initiated its operations to coincide with the shah's ostentatious celebration of Iran's 2,500 years of uninterrupted monarchical rule. Designed to demonstrate the vulnerability of the regime and incite the masses to rise up against the system, the acts of terror perpetrated by the Mojahedin at this time included the bombing of Tehran's electrical works and an attempt to hijack an Iran Air plane. Such tactics proved highly ineffective, and the regime responded extremely harshly by arresting and executing a large number of Mojahedin members, including the group's entire original leadership (Abrahamian, 1982, p. 491; Milani, 1994, p. 83).

Demonstrating a high degree of resilience, however, the group managed to survive, replace the older leadership, and recruit new members. It even expanded its violent attacks against the regime, engaging in six bank robberies, assassinating Tehran
's police chief as well as an American military adviser, and bombing several foreign-owned business establishments (Abrahamian, 1982, p. 491). In 1975, however, the group became beset with irreconcilable internal divisions when a portion of the new leadership (concluding that Islam was a "middle-class ideology" incapable of bringing "salvation" to the working class) sought to abandon the group's overarching Islamic tendency in favor of a wholesale adoption of Maoism (Abrahamian, 1982, p. 491; Parsa, 1989, p. 201). As a result, the organization split into two groups, with the Islamist wing, active mostly in the provinces, retaining the name Mojahedin, and the Marxist wing (later adopting the name Paykar [Combat] being mostly active in Tehran) (Foran, 1993, p. 374).

The split in the ranks of the Mojahedin served not only to divide its social base; it also diminished the group's organizational capacity by fragmenting its resources. Nevertheless, both factions of the Mojahedin continued to oppose the regime actively, and the regime, in turn, continued to suppress them harshly. After 1975, "the exploits of the Islamic Mojahedin included a bank robbery in Esfehan, a bombing of a Jewish emigration office in Tehran, and a strike in the Aryamehr University... Those of the Marxist Mojahedin included the bombing of the offices of ATT [American Telephone and Telegraph] and the assassination of two American military advisers" (Abrahamian, 1982,p.494). From their formation in 1975 to the triumph of the revolution in 1979, the Marxist Mojahedin lost thirty of their members. And there are eight years of armed struggle against the monarchy, the Islamic Mojahedin lost seventy-three members (foran, 1993, p. 374).

By the eve of the revolution, both groups were endowed with underground organizations across much of the country, had access to firearms and, significantly, had gained experience and fighting the authorities. They were also endowed with a highly committed core of dedicated members and a larger band of sympathizers. In addition to being at odds with one another, however, their support base was confined almost entirely too young and election was. Their ideology and tactics appealed neither to the traditional or modern members of the middle-class nor to the religious establishment. Moreover, despite their best efforts, due to state repression and suspicion from workers, they have not succeeded at all and mobilizing the urban poor.

The Opposition Today – Excerpt

...The Mojahedin, however, constitute the only organized Iranian opposition with a small band of highly devoted adherents inside Iran, willing to put their lives on the line by occasionally assassinating prominent members of the Islamic Republic. After eighteen year period of inactivity within Iran, the Mojahedin in 1998 assassinated the theocracy is detested longtime chief warden, Assadollah Ladjvardi. In 1985, Ladjevardi became the warden of runs of most notorious prison, Evin, and in 1989, he was promoted to head of the nation’s entire prisons system. From 1981 to 1985, Ladjvardi had served as prosecutor general, taking a leading role in the prosecution and execution of numerous “counterrevolutionary as,” most of whom were members of the Mojahedin. Unit August of 1988, after the Mojahedin launch an attack inside Iranian territory from Iraq , the Islamic Republic embarked upon killing most of the Mojahedin political prisoners it was still holding. As head of the Evin prism, Ladjvardi oversaw the execution of most of the more than 1000 Mojahedin prisoners in Iran (“Mojahedin Slay Ex-Warden,” 1988).

In 1998, the Mojahedin also detonated the bomb at the headquarters of the revolutionary courts, which resulted in the death of three individuals . In addition they fired mortars of a revolutionary guards Garrison in Tehran, which, according to the regime, resulted in no casualties. In another daring move, the majority assassinated lieutenant general Ali Seyyed Shirazi, the deputy chief of the general command headquarters of the armed forces of the Islamic Republic, as he was driving his son to school in 1999. As with Ladjevardi, Shirazi was apparently deliberately selected by the Mojahedin in order to exact revenge for the prominent role that the general had played in rudely crushing Mojahedin’s penetration into Iranian territory in August, 1988 at the end of the Iran-Iraq war (“Mojahedin Murder General,” 1999).



The Iranian Revolution, Then and Now - Dariush Zahedi, 2000

The Intelligentsia, the Clerics, and the Bazaaris: Clerical Discontentment with the Islamic Republic

Most of Iran's grand ayatollahs are now dead. But in their lifetimes none of them referred to Khomeini as imam, a title that in Iran has been reserved for the twelve direct descendants of the Prophet Mohammad. Khomeini's notion of an omnipotent religio-political leader, who can, if the need arises, even order the violation of the Sharia,9 was rejected by eleven of the twelve grand ayatollahs living in 1981 (Montazeri excepted). Some of the grand ayatollahs, notably Abol Ghassem Khoi and Kazem Shariatmadari, directly opposed Khomeini, while others, such as Mohammad Reza Golpayeghani, Haj Hassan Ghomi, Mohammad Shirazi, and Najafi Mar'ashi, distanced themselves from the regime and refused to accept official posts (Roy, 1994, p. 173).

The schism between Iran's traditionalist clergy and Ayatollah Khomeini came to the fore shortly after the success of the revolution. The grand ayatollahs were unanimous in expressing disenchantment with the Assembly of Experts (packed with Khomeini's proteges), which had been convened to revise Iran's 1906 Constitution, when the assembly produced an entirely new draft modeled after Khomeini's velayat-e faqih concept. By far the most devastating denunciations against the new constitution emanated from the liberal Grand Ayatollah Shariatmadari, who favored the creation of "a pluralistic political system . . . where elected officials, not the ulama, would wield . . . power, and where the clergy would interfere in politics only when the state grossly violated the Sharia" (Abra-hamian, 1989, p. 45). Shariatmadari attacked the Constitution for being at odds with the Sharia and the notions of democracy and popular sovereignty. He also reiterated the view that members of the clergy should be above politics so that they can fulfill their essential duty of guarding Islam. Meanwhile, the conservative Grand Ayatollah Ghomi argued that Khomeini and his followers had "monopolized the mosques, [made] a mockery of Islam, and encouraged corruption".




  • FATAL WRIT An Account of Murders and Cover-ups 2000
  • The Iranian Revolution, Then and Now - Dariush Zahedi, 2000
  • The Iranian Revolution, Then and Now - Dariush Zahedi, 2000

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