The disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a famous Saudi journalist, and the allegations that he was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, recently made the news in Iran, as it did in many other countries.
On social media, Iranians have commented widely on developments and speculations, and many of them have been quick to point out historical cases of the Islamic Republic’s embassies’ alleged involvement in the assassinations of Iranian dissidents abroad.
The Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force and/or the Ministry of Intelligence have been in charge of almost all of Iran’s acts of terror abroad. However, this article will not deal with all of them; instead, it will specifically review cases where Iranian diplomatic missions or diplomats have been allegedly involved or collaborated in murders.
The 2018 Belgium Case
Belgium has accused an Iranian diplomat and three other individuals of trying to bomb a Paris meeting of the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran, or the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) in June 2018. Iran strongly denies the charges and describes them as a MEK plot to disrupt Iran-EU relations.
The accused Iranian diplomat worked at the Iranian embassy in Vienna. He was arrested in Germany and extradited to Belgium.
On October 2, it was reported that the French government had frozen Iranian assets in Paris in reaction to the alleged bomb plot. However, the French president Emmanuel Macron said on October 12: “As you know Iran is sometimes divided into different factions and tensions, and so I can’t say today whether the order came from the top or from this [security] service or that division.” This statement implied that, according to the French government, the plotters may have been connected to rival powers working against the Rouhani administration within the Iranian regime.
Mykonos Restaurant Assassinations
On September 17, 1992, assailants shot dead Sadegh Sharafkandi, the leader at the time of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), along with three other individuals at the Mykonos restaurant in Berlin.
This terrorist act led to a famous trial in Berlin that began in October 1993. During the trial the German court concluded that the the act had been ordered by Ali Fallahian, the intelligence minister, and approved by a committee comprised of Iranian high-ranking officials, including the Supreme Leader, the president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and the foreign minister of the time, Ali-Akbar Velayati. The Islamic Republic of Iran has always denied these men’s involvement in the assassination.
Following the conclusion of the German court, many European countries summoned their ambassadors from Tehran. This resulted in an unprecedented diplomatic crisis between Iran and several European countries that lasted until November 1997.
Many experts believe that the Mykonos episode had such negative consequences for the Islamic Republic that the Ministry of Intelligence (and not necessarily the Quds Force) stopped conducting similar operations in Europe. It is the reason why clarification on the recent allegations regarding Iran’s presumed plot to bomb an apposition meeting in Paris is so important to Iran analysts.
Assassination of Abdul-Rahman Ghassemlou
On July 13, 1989, Abdul-Rahman Ghassemlou, the then-leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), along with one of his associates, was shot dead in Vienna. The murderers were believed to be Iranian intelligent agents.
Ghassemlou was assassinated while he had been in negotiations with three representatives of the Iranian government. The objective of the talks was reaching an agreement to end the long-lasting armed conflict between the KDPI and the government.
One of the three Iranian representatives who had been negotiating with Ghassemlou before his assassination was never arrested, the second was deported from Austria, and the third, after one night of arrest, spent a few months in the Iranian embassy in Vienna before leaving the Austrian territory.
However, in spite of speculations about the possible role of the Iranian embassy in the assassination, this involvement was not proven. In fact, unlike the German Mykonos trial for the assassination of Ghassemlou's successor Sadegh Sharafkandi in Berlin, the Vienna terrorist act was never clarified in any court.
The AMIA Attack
On July 18, 1994, 85 people were killed and hundreds injured at the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires after a man launched a suicide attack on the site by driving a van into it .
After the attack, an Argentine judge announced that the Quds Force had organized it, and accused 12 Iranians, including Hadi Soleimanpour, Iran's ambassador to Argentina, of collaborating in the plot. Soleimanpour was arrested in the United Kingdom on August 21, 2003, at the request of the Argentine authorities. He was later released after the British authorities said there was no evidence to support the charges.
In November 2007, Argentina asked Interpol to issue an arrest warrant for nine Iranian officials, including Iran’s ex-Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Velayati and Mohsen Rabbani, the former Iranian cultural attaché in Argentina. Interpol put Mohsen Rabbani and five other Iranian officials on the Interpol red notice list for their alleged involvement in the AMIA attack.
In May 2013, Alberto Nisman, an Argentine prosecutor, published an indictment with regard to the AMIA attack in which Mohsen Rabbani was named as the mastermind of the bombing. The AMIA attack is still under investigation in Argentina.
Assassination of Kazem Rajavi
Kazemi Rajavi was the representative of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, known as the political branch of the MEK, in Switzerland. He was killed on April 24, 1990 near Geneva by armed men.
After the assassination, the Swiss judiciary confirmed the role of the Iranian intelligence ministry in the death, and charged 13 Iranian individuals who had used service passports to enter Switzerland to help carry out the plot. The use of diplomatic passports indicated that the Islamic Republic’s foreign ministry and the Iranian embassy in Switzerland had possibly collaborated with the assassins.
On November 14, 1992, two of the Iranian servicemen who had been accused by the Swiss judiciary entered France and were arrested by the police. However, the French government allowed them to return to Iran and announced that their release in France’s national interests (la raison d’état). There is evidence that in 1992, the French were relying on Iran’s cooperation in order to release their hostages in Lebanon.
Assassination of Ali-Akbar Tabatabaei
On July 22, 1980, Ali-Akbar Tabatabaei, an opposition figure and the former press attaché to the Iranian embassy in the United States, was assassinated in Bethesda, Maryland.
The assassin was Dawud Salahuddin, an African-American convert to Islam. Later it was revealed that he prepared his weapon for the terrorist act in an empty office at the Iranian Interest Section of the Algerian Embassy, where he worked as a security guard. The Iranian Embassy had been closed down a few months earlier as a result of the hostage crisis at the American Embassy in Tehran.
Salahuddin escaped to Paris and Geneva after committing his terrorist act. In Europe, he was granted an Iranian visa without any trouble and arrived in Tehran on July 31, 1980. He still lives in Iran under the name of Hassan Abdulrahman.