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Family Forced to Take the Blame for the Assassination of Nuclear Scientists

October 25, 2019
Shahed Alavi
11 min read
Hossein Naghibossadat, one of many who were accused of assassinating nuclear scientists, with his wife Shahrzad Ebrahimi and her parents
Hossein Naghibossadat, one of many who were accused of assassinating nuclear scientists, with his wife Shahrzad Ebrahimi and her parents
Seated: The father of the Ebrahimis, Shahrzad Ebrahimi, and Hossein Naghibossadat; standing up: The mother of Shahrzad and Mazyar, Jaleh Khatami and Mazyar Ebrahimi
Seated: The father of the Ebrahimis, Shahrzad Ebrahimi, and Hossein Naghibossadat; standing up: The mother of Shahrzad and Mazyar, Jaleh Khatami and Mazyar Ebrahimi

“Eight-year-old Amirhossein went to his room and brought back his toy gun and pointed it at one of the security agents. He was a giant man and had a black raincoat, with a long beard, big nose, and a terrifying gaze that I can never forget. One of them didn’t talk at all and did not even react to Amirhossein. I asked Amirhossein to go to grandpa's room and turn on the TV. He pushed my hands back and said he wanted to stay, and kept pointing his gun at them.” 

These are the words of Shahrzad Ebrahimi, and a passage from the text below, the first in a two-part story about Ebrahimi and her husband Hossein Naghibsadat. Naghibsadat, along with dozens of other people — one account says 107 — were accused of being involved in the assassination of four Iranian nuclear scientists between 2012 and 2013, and the wounding of another during the same period.

The attacks dealt a serious blow to Iran's nuclear program. Islamic Republic authorities believed the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad carried out the assassinations — a conclusion now generally accepted — and launched a vast manhunt. After many years of Iranian security agencies having no success in tracking down the killers, they then tried to cover up their failure by arresting innocent citizens and torturing them to extract confessions of their guilt. Naghibossadat was one of them.

In addition to the story of Naghibossadat and Ebrahimi, IranWire has also published the stories of Mazyar Ebrahimi, Shahrzad Ebrahimi’s brother, and Nader Nouri Kohan.

 

Hossein Naghibossadat was arrested on December 28, 2012, at his father-in-law's apartment. At 10am, the doorbell rang. No one was prepared for what was going to happen, especially since when people rang the bell at the apartment door instead of from outside, it was usually one of the neighbors. 

Naghibossadat opened the door. Five agents stood there. It was unclear how they had got into the building. 

“Hello, may I help you?

“Are you Mr. Naghibossadat?”

“Yes, that’s me.” 

The agents hit the door, pressing Naghibossadat against the wall. Then they came in.

The men told him they were law enforcement agents from the intelligence ministry. They showed Naghibossadat a warrant for his arrest — although he and Sharhzad Ebrahmi said it was not clear whether the warrant allowed them to enter the apartment — and said he faced charges of “conspiracy against national security.”

One of the officers had a camera in his hand and began documenting everything. Two of them talked and the other two were observers. They went into the room that Mazyar Ebrahimi, Sharhzad’s brother, had stayed in before his arrest, and confiscated Naghibossadat’s personal belongings, including his wallet and laptop. “They even took my son’s laptop,” Shahrzad Ebrahami said. “I told them there is nothing on his laptop besides some cartoons and children’s movies and that it belonged to my son. They ignored me and took it anyway.”

Overall, she said, the agents were quite polite — they had said they didn’t want to ruin their home — and apart from the shock of what was happening, the incident was without violence. But for Jaleh Khatami, Mazyar and Sharhzad Ebrahimi’s mother, seeing the security agents in her home again was a reminder of the night her son was arrested, earlier that same year.  



Fear of What Was to Come

Jaleh Khatami had suffered a stroke after watching her son making false confessions on TV, and she was still recovering. At the time that the agents arrived to arrest her son-in-law, she had only been able to leave her bed a few days before. The family knew Mazyar Ebrahimi was innocent and could not imagine what Iranian authorities had done to him to make him plead guilty to such serious charges. With this new visit, she picked up the Koran, put her hand on it and said, “I swear on this Koran that my son did nothing.”

“After saying that, my mother fell down on the floor and had a seizure,” Shahrzad Ebrahimi said.

“We were sure that they would arrest Hossein and do the same to him,” she said. “We were scared and felt defenseless. I screamed at the agents and asked about Mazyar. I was sure that they had some connection and knew where Mazyar was and what had happened to him. We had heard nothing from him in seven months, besides the confession on TV. We didn’t even know if he was alive.”

Shahrzad Ebrahimi continued to scream at the agents and told them that she knew they would treat her husband the same way they had treated her brother. When her mother’s condition got worse, they called the ambulance.

After her brother was arrested, Shahrzad Ebrahimi and Hossein Naghibossadat spent most of their time at her parents’ apartment so they could take care of them. Their own home was in the Shamsabad neighborhood of Tehran, only two streets away from her parents. So when the agents came to the apartment, Naghibossadat told the agents that they should inspect their own home as well so they wouldn’t come back and bother the family again. “It was unlikely that their mother could tolerate another shock,”  he said.

So when the ambulance arrived and took her mother, Shahrzad Ebrahimi went with the agents to their home. They seized some CDs and movies and some of their documents. They asked her husband to bring out the gun he was hiding. But there was no gun.

At the time, their son Amirhossein was eight years old. When agents raided the apartment to arrest his father, he was watching cartoons. When they took his laptop away from him, he didn’t understand what was happening and told them: “What are you doing? I’m watching my show.”

For a little child, it was especially terrifying to watch the security agents raiding their home. Amirhossein went to his room and brought back his toy gun, pointed it at one of the agents and stayed there until they left.



“The worst thing that could have happened to us”

Naghibossadat didn’t know why they arrested him — he thought it was because he was related to Mazyar Ebrahimi. The day after Ebrahimi’s false confessions admitting his involvement in the assassination of nuclear scientists was shown on TV, Naghibossadat and Shahrzad Ebrahimi had gone to both the Shahid Moghaddas and Evin Prison courthouses to find out about him. They talked to Judge Mostafapour from Branch 1 of Evin Court. The judge said the confessions on TV were voluntary and there had been no torture — and even that such a thing as a forced confession would never happen in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Mazyar Ebrahimi had confessed, he said, and a hearing would take place in a month’s time, with a verdict following. He recommended they get ready for the verdict. “With this background, Hossein’s arrest was the worst thing that could have happened to us,” Shahrzad Ebrahimi said.

Agents originally registered Naghibossadat at Ward 209, and then transferred him to Ward 240. A day after the arrest, they took him to Shahid Moghaddas court to hear the charges against him. Judge Mostafapour had remembered him from 45 days before, when he came to the court to enquire about his brother-in-law with his wife. “Finally they brought you here as well,” the judge said.

“I don’t know why I’m here, your honor. If I had done anything I wouldn’t be here now and would have left the country right after Mazyar was arrested. Why did they arrest me?”

“Listen, “ the judge said. “Just answer the questions the agents ask and cooperate with them.”

The court session finished, but there were still no official charges against him. Naghibossadat kept saying, “I didn’t hear my charges and don’t know why I have been arrested.”


How Many Were Arrested?

The intelligence ministry arrested a large number of Iranian citizens who had no connection to the case of the assassinated nuclear scientists. There is no accurate number of how many people were arrested for these crimes — Mazyar Ebrahimi says he believes it was as many as 107. Some of them were arrested for a few weeks, while others remained in prison for months — and some for up to two years. Many of them were psychologically tortured by being kept in solitary confinement for days or months, and subjected to abusive, humiliating treatment and illegal interrogation.

But others were physically tortured in accordance with tazir, a provision under Sharia law that allows the judge to decide on punishment for offenses that are not directly stipulated by Sharia. The 53 individuals who received compensation were those who experienced this kind of torture and who were imprisoned for more than a few weeks. The forced confessions of 12 defendants in the case were broadcast on August 5, 2012, Mazyar Ebrahimi's among them.

Everyone who was jailed for alleged links to the murders was eventually found not guilty, apart from Majid Jamali Fashi, who was found guilty and executed in May 2012.

However, according to Mahmoud Alavi, the Minister of Intelligence, 53 suspects were arrested and 4 billion tomans (around US $940,000) were paid to them in compensation for what they endured.


Another False History

Hossein Naghibossadat was imprisoned for seven months, and held in solitary confinement at Ward 240.

The interrogation rooms were situated between one row of cells at the back of the ward and another at the front of the ward. Agents took Hossein Naghibossadat to one of the rooms, and sat him down facing a wall. “Somebody stood behind me and asked me, ‘How are you, Ammar?’ I stood up automatically and turned my face to him. He pushed me toward the wall and said, ‘Sit the hell down. You don’t need to stand up and don’t ever turn your face to me.’ He cursed at me and said: ‘I am the interrogator here;  a representative of the prosecutor and a cameraman are also present,” Naghibossadat remembers. “He was lying. I could feel that he was the only one behind me.”  

He told the interrogator his name was not Ammar. The interrogator replied that this was the name he had given himself when he was living in Syria, and that during his trips to Israel this is what people called him. The interrogator told him to confess to this and everything he had done. “I told him, what should I confess to? You have my passport and you know I haven’t traveled to Israel and nobody calls me Ammar.”

The next day the interrogator applied more pressure by mentioning his wife and son. The interrogations continued over the following days.

The interrogator insulted his wife, trying to make him angry and say something that could be used against him. “I was concerned about my wife and son,” Naghibossadat said. “I had never experienced interrogation and never did anything in my life to be interrogated for. I was not prepared for this situation. I was scared.”

The interrogation focused on the accusation that he had been involved in the explosion at Bidganeh near Malard, southwest of Tehran, which took place in 2011. “They said, ‘you drove Mazyar’s Peugeot to Malard,'” Naghibossadat said. “I told them I don’t even know where Malard is, and I had only driven between Karaj and Qazvin for my job. Mazyar did not have a Peugeot. He had a Renault L90. Later, I realized that a Peugeot was involved in the scenario they wrote about the explosion. Not only was I supposed to confess to driving the Peugeot, but also they wanted me to tell them where I had hid it.”

Some days later, they threatened him that they were going to arrest his wife Shahrzad Ebrahimi too, and that their son would have to be adopted by his family. “The interrogators asked me why, as a Shia man, had I married a Kurdish woman?”


Targeting Shahrzad Ebrahimi

Someone — the same interrogator or perhaps someone else — called his wife during the time Naghibossadat was being interrogated and treated her in the same aggressive and humiliating way they treated him. “Somebody was calling me regularly,” Shahrzad Ebrahimi said. “Since he would not introduce himself, I hung up the phone immediately. But then he said, ‘If you hang up, I’ll come where you are and’ — he insulted me using obscenities. Each time he said something different. He said Hossein had confessed to being involved in the Malard explosion. Or that I should give up custody of Amirhossein to somebody else. He even told me he could find someone for Amirhossein. Or that I should find somebody who could take Amirhossein to Turkey and my brother in Italy could pick him up there.” She received these phone calls over and over.

The persecution went on. Shahrzad Ebrahimi says she can’t forget those bitter days.

Then, on March 16, 2013, the last Saturday before Norooz, the Iranian new year, the same agent called again and told her to be prepared to be arrested by the end of the week.  “I was angry and screamed at him,” Ebrahimi said. “I asked him who he was, and why didn’t they leave us alone? I went to Evin Prison to ask about my husband. They wouldn’t tell me anything about him. Nobody said anything. Upsetting us was their first priority. I knew that my parents wouldn’t be able to handle my arrest.” She said she was so desperate she contemplated the worst. “I was thinking about driving my parents, Amirhossein and myself into a valley to be free from them. They put so much pressure on me that I thought about committing such a horrible thing.”

 

Read other articles in IranWire's series on those accused of being involved in the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists: 

Intelligence Agents Controlled Every Aspect of My Life

The Judge Threatened to Sentence Us to Death if We Didn’t Confess

Exclusive Interview: Former Prisoner on Torture and Interrogations

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