Iran has handed down a death sentence to a man it claims aided the murder of Ghasem Soleimani, the Commander of Iran’s Quds Force who was killed in a United States drone strike in January 2020.
“When Ghasem Soleimani was killed in Iraq, Mahmoud Mousavi-Majd was in prison and played no role in the killing of Soleimani,” a statement from the judiciary’s media center announced on Tuesday, June 9. But just a few hours earlier, the judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili had reported that Mousavi-Majd had been sentenced to death.
"Mahmoud Mousavi-Majd, a spy for the CIA and Mossad, has been sentenced to death. He gave the whereabouts of martyr Soleimani to our enemies," Esmaili said in a televised news conference.
Currently, no information has been released about what position, if any, Mousavi-Majd held in the Quds Force and, prior to June 9, there were no news reports about his trial.
Branch 19 of Iran’s Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence and there are indications that it could be carried out in the coming days, despite the report from the judiciary’s press department.
Although other names have been raised in connection with allegations of passing on information about the movements and whereabouts of commanders of the Quds Force or about the Revolutionary Guards, Mousavi-Majd’s name has never been mentioned in connection with General Soleimani’s case.
Bringing Mousavi-Majd into the case has once again aroused suspicions of frame-ups and the dissemination of bogus information by the judiciary and the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Unit regarding one of Iran's most important security and military cases. It was only hours after Esmaili’s news conference that the judiciary’s press department issued a statement denying that Mousavi-Majd was in any way connected to the assassination of General Soleimani.
According to the statement, Mousavi-Majd was arrested on October 10, 2018, long before the assassination of General Soleimani, and he was tried on the same day at Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court; his sentence was issued on August 25, 2019. The Supreme Court objected to the sentence against him and returned the case to the court, which on February 23, 2020 reaffirmed the death sentence. This time, the Supreme Court accepted the court’s ruling.
Mehdi Keshtdar, the CEO of the judiciary’s Mizan News Agency, was one of the first to provide more information about the case, stating that Mousavi-Majd had played no role in the assassination of General Soleimani. He tweeted that Mousavi-Majd had been arrested and imprisoned before the assassination. “He was not the culprit in leaking the whereabouts of Commander Soleimani…when Soleimani arrived at Baghdad Airport,” he wrote.
Mohammad Mehdi Hemmat, the son of an Iranian general who was killed in the 1980-88 war between Iran and Iraq, also denied that Mousavi-Majd had any involvement in the assassination of General Soleimani.
Accusations Without Any Evidence
These statements make it clear that, contrary to the announcement by the judiciary spokesman, Mousavi-Majd could not have played any part in the assassination of General Soleimani. Regardless, he has been sentenced to death on exactly this charge.
If the claim by the judiciary and the Revolutionary Guards is true, that Mousavi-Majd passed information about the movements of military commanders to western intelligence services, it raises the question: For what organization did he work? Whatever organization it was, it would have to have close links to General Soleimani, and Mousavi-Majd would need to be in a unique position to be able to access the information and pass it on.
The three likely organizations Mousavi-Majd could have worked for are the Revolutionary Guards’ expeditionary Quds Force, the Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization, or for the military forces in the battlefields of Iraq and Syria. In recent years General Soleimani had very close relations with these organizations, and was the commander of the Quds Force and the forces fighting in Iraq and Syria.
Ruhollah Zam, the founder and administrator of the Telegram channel Amad News who was abducted from Iraq by the Revolutionary Guards, was charged with passing on information about operations and locations of Quds Force commanders to western and Israeli intelligence services.
Mohammad Hossein Rostami, a conservative principlist journalist, also faced charges linked to the activities of the Quds Forces and its commanders. Rostami went to Syria as a member of the so-called “Defenders of the Shrine” unit and fought against opponents of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. However, he was arrested in May 2016 after returning to Iran. One of the charges brought against him by the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Unit was that he had passed on information about the Guards’ forces in the area of Khan Tuman in northern Syria, where dozens of the members of the Guards were killed.
Rostami, however, rejected the charges and said he was pressured by Hossein Taeb, head of the Guards’ Intelligence Unit, to confess to this charge.
In fact, accusations regarding the release of information about the Islamic Republic forces in Iraq and Syria are relatively frequent. Asghar Pashapour was a senior general of the Quds Force and was killed in Aleppo in February 2020. After a group of his associates revealed his identity on social media, opponents of President Assad took Pashapour’s body hostage and released it in exchange for the release of members of the opposition group.
As various reports indicate, the assassination of General Ghasem Soleimani, the top commander of the Quds Force, did not require a complicated intelligence-gathering operation. Some accounts say Soleimani believed that the US and Israel did not dare to kill him and, as result, he took very few security precautions in Iraq and in Syria, or in Iran when he appeared among the public.
The night that he was killed, Soleimani flew from Damascus to Baghdad on an ordinary commercial flight. The information about the flight and it passengers was available even to an ordinary airport employee.
The three main factors in the assassination of General Soleimani were most likely his own personal demeanor and attitude, the cluelessness of the Islamic Republic forces in Iraq and Syria regarding the most basic principles of safeguarding sensitive information and the ability of western intelligence agencies, and especially the Americans, for effective gathering of information. It remains to be seen which one of these three factors played a more important role. But for now, it appears as though the “spy” Mahmoud Mousavi-Majd might pay the price