tehranbureau An independent source of news on Iran and the Iranian diaspora

Has Professor Ali-Mohammadi's Assassin Really Been Arrested?

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles

14 Jan 2011 06:13Comments

Absurdity-riddled 'confession' raises slew of serious questions.

UTprofassassination.jpg[ comment ] In early January 2010, Dr. Masoud Ali-Mohammadi, a professor of physics at the University of Tehran, was assassinated in front of his home in northern Tehran. Reports indicated that a motorcycle parked next to his car held a bomb that was set off by a remote control device. State media, including the Islamic Republic News Agency and Fars, which is controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, immediately blamed Israel, the United States, and "their lackeys" for orchestrating the assassination. In reports that appeared last January 13 and 26, Tehran Bureau analyzed in detail who the culprit might be. Although the possibility that Israel and its Iranian collaborators committed the assassination could not be completely ruled out, the available evidence strongly indicated that no foreign power was involved in the murder, which was very likely carried out by ultra-hardliners within the Islamic Republic's security/intelligence apparatus.

Despite the repeated assertions by Minister of Intelligence Heydar Moslehi and other officials that the assassin would swiftly be arrested, nothing happened for almost a year. A source close to Ali-Mohammadi's family told me that despite their repeated inquiries into whether any breakthroughs had been achieved in the investigation of the case, they never learned a thing. In fact, the ministry did not even contact the family to give them an update, ignoring the family's many telephone calls.

Then, on November 29, again in Tehran, there were two more assassination attempts on scientists involved in Iran's nuclear program. In one, Dr. Majid Shahriari was killed and his wife was seriously wounded. There was a simultaneous attack on Dr. Fereydoon Abbasi Davani, but he and his wife escaped with only minor injuries. Once again, officials in Tehran blamed Israel, the United States, and their Iranian collaborators.

The assassination of Ali-Mohammadi is different from the Abbasi Davani and Shahriari cases. Shahriari was involved in elementary particle research toward the development of a new generation of nuclear reactors. Dr. Ali Akbar Salehi, then head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran -- he is now the acting foreign minister -- confirmed that Shahriari was involved in a "major project." Abbasi-Davani has also had a leading role in Iran's nuclear program. A laser expert and specialist in nuclear isotope preparation, he has worked closely for years with the Ministry of Defense. He was one of the scientists identified as being involved in Iran's nuclear program by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1747, which substantially expanded sanctions in 2007.

In contrast, Ali-Mohammadi was a theoretician whose general area of research was theoretical and mathematical physics, including theoretical particle physics. He taught classical and quantum physics, highly theoretical subjects, at the University of Tehran, a focus reflected in the list of his scientific publications, totaling about 80 papers.

As Tehran Bureau reported last January, Ali-Mohammadi was deeply involved with the Institute for Applied Physics (IAP) at the Iran University of Science and Technology. In 2008, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) publicized evidence that the IAP was a military-related institute and asked Iran to clarify the institute's procurement activities in relation to the so-called green-salt project that had provoked much speculation in the West. Green salt, or uranium tetrafluoride, is an intermediate in the conversion of uranium hexafluoride to either uranium oxides or uranium metal.

Ali-Mohammadi was for some time the head of the IAP, which is now defunct; during his tenure, he worked closely with Abbasi-Davani. As Tehran Bureau reported, while Ali-Mohammadi was not directly involved in any nuclear project, as IAP chief he knew much about the institute's procurement of dual-use instrumentation and machine tools. Most important, despite his long-time support for the conservatives, he turned against them after the rigged presidential election of 2009 and became a prominent academic supporter of Mir Hossein Mousavi and the Green Movement.

Thus, while I believe that Israel was behind the murder of Shahriari and the attempt to kill Abbasi-Davani, I still find it unlikely that Israel had a role in the assassination of Ali-Mohammadi (although as I have repeatedly stated, that possibility cannot be ruled out completely, simply because many aspects of the assassination are shrouded in secrecy).

Almost a year after Ali-Mohammadi's assassination, a period during which we heard nothing about the case, suddenly the Ministry of Intelligence announced that the culprit had been arrested. Iran's government-controlled TV proceeded to broadcast the "confession" of the alleged assassin, Majid Jamali-Fash, who asserted that he had been trained by Israel's Mossad. Is the confession believable, especially given its sudden appearance, the fact that many political prisoners have also delivered "confessions" that they have recanted after release from jail, and the Islamic Republic's horrendous track record of extracting "confessions" through torture even from innocent people?

To address the question, we must examine the particulars of the alleged assassin's televised statement. He claimed,

I met two men, two Israeli officers who knew Hebrew perfectly. We arrived at the airport in Tel Aviv and at passport control I was asked a question. As I did not know Hebrew, it aroused the suspicion of the border agent.

It is not clear where he met the two Israeli agents, but he seemed to imply that it was in Iran. How plausible is that, especially since the alleged assassin claimed that the two men spoke Hebrew perfectly? In addition, how plausible is it that he was recruited and then taken to Israel for training? If the alleged assassin did go to Israel as a recruited agent, why was he first brought through the usual security check for ordinary travelers?

At that moment, the person responsible for me came and presented a ticket, took my passport, and we went a different way. We exited Tel Aviv on the highway toward Jerusalem and after half an hour arrived at Mossad headquarters, which is located on the main road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

If the alleged assassin did actually go to Israel and Mossad headquarters, then he should surely know that the headquarters are not where he claimed -- toward Jerusalem, south of Tel Aviv -- but actually north of Tel Aviv in Herzliya. Moreover, he claimed that he received the basic training in two days. Surely the training for carrying out an assassination, preparing explosives, and so forth would take much longer than two days.

And that is not the end of the absurdities to which the alleged assassin "confessed." He claimed that there was a precise, if scaled-down, replica of Ali-Mohammad's Tehran home at Mossad headquarters. The replica was so exact that, according to the alleged assassin, it even included the same type of road asphalt used in the professor's neighborhood and the same sort of trees that are planted there.

Let us assume for the sake of argument that what the alleged assassin said is true. Many questions follow: Who provided the Mossad with such precise information about Ali-Mohammadi's home and neighborhood? Given that, before his assassination, Ali-Mohammadi's name had never come up in relation with Iran's nuclear program and that, in fact, based on his scientific publications he was known as a very good theoretical physicist and mathematical physicist, who inside Iran directed the Mossad toward him? Who gave the alleged assassin precise information on when the late professor would leave home?

These questions logically give rise to a further series of questions: If there were already agents in Tehran who could provide such precise information, why, then, was there a need to recruit a new agent and take him to Israel for training? In addition, if the only thing that the alleged assassin was supposed to do was leave his motorcycle by Ali-Mohammadi's car and explode the bomb via remote control, why in the world did he need to learn about the road asphalt and the trees, let alone go to Israel for this education?

Most important -- even if we believe everything the alleged assassin said -- why is there absolutely no evidence that those who provided him all that precise information and, presumably, logistical support have been arrested along with him? How can one reconcile this fact with Moslehi's claim that the network of Israel's agents inside Iran has been destroyed? Would it not be logical to assume that the same agents were involved in the assassination of Shahriari and the attempt to assassinate Abbasi-Davani? If so, why is it that there was no mention of those two plots in the state TV spectacle or the Intelligence Ministry's other celebratory declarations?

And again, even if everything we heard was true, what guarantees that it was not Israel's other agents, still at large, who gave up the alleged assassin in order to protect themselves? In that case, we should await more assassinations.

The fact of the matter is that foreign-supported groups have been carrying out terrorist operations inside Iran for quite some time. Examples include Jundallah's terrorist attacks in Zahedan and more recently in Chabahar, as well as the terrorist bombing in Mahabad. During the same period, of course, there were the attacks on Shahriari and Abbasi-Davani.

Despite the repeated assertions by the regime that perpetrators in these incidents have been arrested, no credible evidence in support of those claims, or even a confession of the type made by Ali-Mohammadi's alleged assassin, has ever been made available to the public. The Ministry of Intelligence has simply been too busy monitoring the citizenry and arresting university students, human rights advocates, attorneys representing political prisoners, and even family members of the imprisoned to have the time or resources to safeguard Iran's national security.

When asked about the possible fate of Brigadier General Ali Reza Asgari, the former deputy defense minister who disappeared in December 2006, reportedly wound up in an Israeli jail, and may have even died there, Moslehi said that he is not sure about anything. This, from the same man who had just claimed that his ministry had penetrated the Mossad most deeply!

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

SHAREtwitterfacebookSTUMBLEUPONbalatarin reddit digg del.icio.us
blog comments powered by Disqus

In order to foster a civil and literate discussion that respects all participants, FRONTLINE has the following guidelines for commentary. By submitting comments here, you are consenting to these rules:

Readers' comments that include profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, harassment, or are defamatory, sexist, racist, violate a third party's right to privacy, or are otherwise inappropriate, will be removed. Entries that are unsigned or are "signed" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. We reserve the right to not post comments that are more than 400 words. We will take steps to block users who repeatedly violate our commenting rules, terms of use, or privacy policies. You are fully responsible for your comments.