Who murdered Prof. Ali-Mohammadi?
by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles
13 Jan 2010 07:09
State media, including the Islamic Republic News Agency and Fars immediately declared that Professor Ali-Mohammadi was a nuclear physicist and a supporter of Velayat-e Faghih [guardianship of the Islamic jurist, represented by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei], and blamed Israel, the United States, and "their lackeys" for orchestrating the assassination. However, friends, colleagues, former and current students quickly refuted the charge, stating that the professor's views had changed fundamentally, and that he was a supporter of the reformists.
Who was Ali-Mohammadi?
Masoud Ali-Mohammadi was born on August 24, 1959. He was admitted to Shiraz University in southern Iran in the fall of 1978 and majored in physics. In 1985, he was admitted to a graduate program in physics at Sharif University of Technology, one of the most prestigious academic institutions in Iran. After receiving his M.S. degree in physics, he was admitted to the doctoral program in physics. In 1992 Sharif University granted its first Ph.D. degree in physics to Dr. Ali-Mohammadi. He then joined the faculty of the University of Tehran as an assistant professor in physics and was eventually promoted to full professor there. He was the deputy chair of the faculty of science for research, a committee member of the Faculty of Sciences, and a member of the academic promotion team of the University of Tehran. Last July, he was one of Iran's two representatives to the Synchrotron Radiation Center for Research and Applied Science in the Middle East in Jordan.
Professor Ali-Mohammadi's general area of research was theoretical and mathematical physics, but his areas of interest were very broad and varied. According to Dr. Hesamoddin Arfaei, his Ph.D. thesis adviser at Sharif University, Professor Ali- Mohammadi's research included particle physics; he taught classical and quantum physics.
Professor Ali-Mohammadi wrote several books and authored 80 scientific papers published in recognized science journals. He also participated in a summer school program in high energy physics at the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy. For four years he was also a non-resident research fellow at the Institute for Physics and Mathematics in Tehran.
Professor Ali-Mohammadi was a pious Muslim. He supported the Iranian Revolution of 1979. When he was at Shiraz University, he worked with the Muslim Student Association, which at the time was a pro-government student organization. Dr. Ahmad Shirzad, a professor of nuclear physics at Isfahan University and a classmate of Professor Ali-Mohammadi, said that in the 1980s and 1990s he was a moderate Muslim. According to Dr. Shirzad, Professor Ali-Mohammadi was neither a right-wing reactionary in the conservative camp, nor a reformist supporter in that period. At the University of Tehran he had a reputation for being an honest and kind person who never tried to ingratiate himself with the right-wing centers of power.
In the past few years, however, his political views changed. According to several reports, he had said that he voted for the reformists in the elections for the 8th Majles (parliament) in 2008, and he had supported the reformists again in the in fall 2006 elections for Tehran's city council. More recently, he was one of 240 academics who signed a declaration of support for Mir Hossein Mousavi before the June 12 election.
A former student of his said that on June 15 (when the huge demonstrations against the rigged presidential election of June 12 broke out) he was at the gathering of the members of the Muslim Student Association of the Faculty of Sciences. At that time, someone from Mousavi's headquarters had called to caution them that security forces had orders to shoot demonstrators, if necessary. He said that Professor Ali-Mohammadi told him, "Young man, do not be scared. We must resist them [the hardliners]. A bullet hurts only at the beginning." According to this student, Professor Ali-Mohammadi then arranged for a bus to take him and many of his students to the demonstrations.
According to a statement that was issued by a group of physics students at the University of Tehran, Professor Ali-Mohammadi was one of the leading academics who stormed the University Chancellor's office to demand an investigation into the June 15 attack on the university when several students were murdered and many more were injured.
Several other students have stated that Professor Ali-Mohammadi had organized debates on the national crisis at the University of Tehran. He had apparently told his students that "they" [the hardliners] had ordered him to put an end to such activities, but that he was going to press on despite their demands. The last of such debates had occurred on January 5, in which he had urged students to come up with a scientific and practical solution to the Iranian crisis. All of his speeches have reportedly been recorded and can be used as evidence to refute the hardliner's propaganda that he was one of them.
A source in Tehran told the author that Professor Ali-Mohammadi had worked with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) on several projects in the past. This source said that given Professor Ali-Mohammadi's extensive knowledge of the IRGC's activities and his recent new-found support for the reformists and Mousavi would have made him a potential target for the IRGC.
Rah-e Sabz, the pro-Green Movement Web site, reported that Professor Ali-Mohammadi had participated in several defense projects, as well as projects linked with Iran's nuclear program, and apparently had extensive information about Iran's military and nuclear program.
The hardliners have accused Israel, the U.S., and an obscure monarchist group for the assassination. The monarchist group rejected the accusation. In fact, it's highly unlikely that any opposition group carried out his murder. The hardliners may have hoped to distract people by claiming that the assassination was the work of the "enemy," therefore shifting their attention away from the more colossal problems facing the country.
There is also precedence for the assassination of leading figures in Iran's nuclear program and missile industry. In July 2001, Col. Ali Mahmoudi Mimand, known as the father of Iran's missile program, was found dead in his office; he had been shot in the head. Dr. Ardeshir Hassanpour, a prominent and award-winning figure in Iran's nuclear program, was murdered on January 15, 2007. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Israel's Mossad had murdered Dr. Hassanpour.
In fact, Professor Ali-Mohammadi went to Jordan last summer as Iran's representative to the Synchrotron Radiation Center, an atomic research center undoubtedly on the Israeli's radar. Unlike Ali-Mohammadi however, the other two who were assassinated were leading Iran's efforts in important areas. But Professor Ali- Mohammadi was apparently not involved with Iran's nuclear program at all. His research was in the general area of particle physics, which is of a fundamental, rather than practical nature. He was also not affiliated with the IRGC-controlled universities, namely Malek-e Ashtar and Emam Hossein universities. Ali Shirzadian, the spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, denied that Professor Ali-Mohammadi was under contract there.
In addition, engineers are leading Iran's nuclear program, not nuclear physicists. It is the engineers and materials scientists who improve the design centrifuges for Iran's uranium enrichment program. It is also the engineers who design the underground enrichment centers.
Because it is likely that Professor Ali-Mohammadi was well informed about many IRGC projects, and a prominent academic supporter of the reformists and the Green Movement, his murder would send a message to others, particularly academics. If the hardliners were behind the murder, it would be a signal that they have started a campaign of assassination to silence the opposition.
Another characteristic of the hardliners is that they never forgive anyone who deserts them and joins the opposition. The deserters are usually dealt with much more harshly than bona fide members of the opposition. This only adds to the suspicion that the hardliners may have had something to do with Professor Ali-Mohammadi's murder.
There is one unusual aspect about the assassination. Almost all the political assassinations in Iran over the past two decades have been carried out by one of two methods. In one, the assassin directly shoots at the victim. Examples include Dr. Saeed Hajjarian, the leading reformist strategist who was the target of an assassination attempt in March 2000; Lieutenant General Ali Sayyad Shirazi, deputy chief of staff of Iran's armed forces, who was assassinated in 1999; and Habibollah Ladjevardi, known as the "butcher of Evin" [Tehran's notorious prison], who was killed in September 1998. In the second method, the victim is kidnapped and killed secretly. Well-known examples of the latter include some of the victims of the infamous Chain Murders of the fall of 1998.
In Professor Ali-Mohammadi's case, the method was more similar to assassinations in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, or Afghanistan. That complicates the case; but then again, it may have been a deliberate tactic used to make it easier to point the finger elsewhere.
If the assassination signals a new campaign by the hardliners, Iran may be moving toward becoming a second Pakistan, where the military and intelligence services eliminate the opposition with impunity and make the country even more unstable than it already is.
Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau