The first Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ruhollah Khomeini, died in June 1989. Not all his public demands for the murders of various individuals outside Iran had yet been met. But in the decades since he took office, Khomeini’s successor Ali Khamenei has shown a clear commitment not only to fulfilling Khomeini’s fatwas, but expanding on them.
This article examines just some of the scores of political assassinations carried out by the Islamic Republic outside of Iran in the last 30 years, after Ayatollah Khamenei came to power. It covers only the Iranians who fell victim to the state’s pernicious campaign of transnational repression, without touching on the hundreds of people of other nationalities killed in Tehran-sponsored terror attacks abroad down the years.
Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, Abdullah Ghaderi-Azar and Fazel Rasoul, assassinated in Vienna on July 13, 1989
Abdul Rahman Ghasemlou was the leader of Iranian opposition group the Democratic Party of Kurdistan. He was shot at close range in the Austrian capital, in the very same meeting room where he just had attended back-room talks with officials of the Islamic Republic after the end of the Iran-Iraq war. Two of his associates, Abdullah Ghaderi-Azar, a member of the party’s Central Committee, and university professor Fazel Rasoul were also killed after being hit by 11 and five bullets respectively.
One of the government representatives who had come from Tehran to Vienna for the talks was Amir Mansour Bozorgian, who spent 24 hours in police custody before taking refuge in the ranian Embassy. He later became director of security for the IRIB, under the pseudonym Mostafa Modaber, and a board member at the Saipa car manufacturing company under the name of Ghafour Darjazi. Iranian football star Ali Daei, formerly the head coach of Saipa FC, discovered the latter fake name and told the public about it in spring 2019.
Another suspect in the killing of Ghassemlou and his colleagues was Mohammad Jafari Sahraroudi, a commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in charge of the Iranian delegation to Vienna. His principal activity at the time was monitoring and suppressing the country’s Kurdish population. He went on to hold senior positions in the Iranian parliament.
Though the Austrian government was fully aware of the suspects’ identities, it appeared to find little incentive to pursue the case. They were never charged and continue to travel freely outside of Iran to this dsay.
Kazem Rajavi, assassinated in Geneva on April 24, 1990
Kazem Rajavi had been Iran's first ambassador to the United Nations headquarters in Geneva after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. But he quit after just one year, later becoming the chief representative of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) in Switzerland and hosting delegations from the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK) to the UN Human Rights Commission every year. He was shot in the head at close range, in broad daylight.
During the initial investigation the Swiss prosecutor's office issued an arrest warrant for Ali Fallahian, the Iranian then-Minister of Intelligence. Due to the impossibility of arrests, the case was closed. This September, some 30 years later, it was reopened again after Rajavi’s brother secured an extension of the investigation for possible genocide and crimes against humanity.
The US State Department has banned 13 people from entering the United States in connection with the murder of Kazem Rajavi. But their names have never been made public.
Cyrus Elahi, assassinated in Paris on October 23, 1990
Cyrus Elahi had served as an advisor to the Iranian Minister of Education before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. He fled to the US and became one of the founders of opposition group the Derafsh-e Kaviani, or Flag of Freedom Organization of Iran. The political scientist was visiting his brother in the French capital when he was shot seven times in the lobby of his Paris residence.
French police arrested a number of Iranian nationals and determined the killing had been orchestrated by the Iranian government through the Intelligence Ministry. Later in 2000, Elahi’s brother Dariush filed a lawsuit in the US against the Islamic Republic and the Ministry. None of the respondents made representations and a judge awarded $12 million in damages. But the killer, or killers, and individual perpetrators were never identified.
Abdorrahman Boroumand, assassinated in Paris on April 18, 1991
Abdorrahman Boroumand was a leading member of the pro-democracy National Resistance Movement of Iran. He was stabbed to death in front of his home in Paris. His daughter Roya Boroumand has since said: "French police considered my father a victim of terrorism, and there was no doubt that the assassination was the work of the Islamic Republic. But unfortunately not much was found.” None of the suspects were prosecuted.
Shapour Bakhtiar, assassinated in Paris on August 6, 1991
The last Pahlavi-era prime minister of Iran had founded the National Resistance Movement of Iran while living in exile in Paris. He had survived a previous attempt on his life in July 1981. Ten years later, Bakhtiar was murdered at his home along with his secretary, Soroush Katibeh, by three assassins armed with kitchen knives. Their bodies were not found until 36 hours later even though Bakhtiar had police protection. Two of the assassins escaped back to Iran and received a hero’s welcome. A third, Ali Vakilirad, was caught together with an accomplice in Switzerland and sentenced in France to life in prison, but was released 19 years later in a prisoner swap with the Islamic Republic. Members of the Bakhtiar family have filed a lawsuit against the Islamic Republic in the US over the murder.
Fereydoun Farrokhzad, assassinated in Bonn on July 31, 1992
Fereydoun Farrokhzad was an Iranian singer and strident critic of both the Islamic Republic and Ruhollah Khomeini, who regularly voiced his opinions in his shows. Farrokhzad was stabbed to death at his home in Bonn, Germany in the summer of 1992. Though no perpetrator was identified, the manner of the killing was markedly similar to others in the chain murders.
Sadegh Sharafkandi, Homayoun Ardalan, Fattah Abdoli and Nouri Dehkordi, assassinated in Berlin on September 17, 1992
The Kurdish opposition leaders had assembled at Mynokos restaurant in Berlin when a group of assailants opened fire on them with machine guns. The Mykonos case had the most severe impact on European-Iranian relations of any assassination event to date. In the aftermath an Iranian named Kazem Darabi was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murders, while two Lebanese nationals were given lengthy prison sentences. The court also found Ali Khamenei, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Ali Akbar Velayati and Ali Fallahian responsible for the killings. The court ruling led to the expulsion of EU ambassadors from Tehran and a protracted period of EU tension with the Islamic Republic. Darabi was recently released and returned to Tehran. Hassan Rouhani's government named his subsequent memoir book of the year.
Mohammad Hossein Naghdi, assassinated in Rome on March 16, 1993
The former charge d’affairs of the Embassy of the Islamic Republic in Italy, Mohammad Hossein Naghdi resigned in 1984 and joined the National Council of the Resistance of Iran (NCRI). He went on to become its main spokesman in the Italian capital before his murder in spring 1993. Hamid Parandeh and Amir Mansour Bozorgian, former diplomats at the Iranian Embassies in Bonn and Rome, were the prime suspects. The case has been heard in Italian courts twice but no perpetrator has been arrested or prosecuted.
Frood Fouladvand, abducted in Turkey on or after January 17, 2007
Foroud Fouladvand was the founder of the monarchist group Kingdom Assembly of Iran, also known as Tondar. His TV stations harshly criticized political Islam and supported the overthrow of the Islamic Republic. In January 2007 he and two other dual nationals, Nazem Schmidtt and Alexander Valizadeh, went missing in Turkey. Tondar officials later said they believed he had been murdered. The Islamic Republic has also hanged several people inside the country for alleged membership of the group.