The bullet-riddled body of Saadi Khaledi, a Kurdish political activist and vocal critic of the Islamic Republic, was found on Saturday, January 22 in Afghanistan's Baghlan province. He was buried in Kabul days later. His family told IranWire they are convinced the Iranian regime was behind the killing.
The plot to assassinate Khaledi was initiated on January 20. A car pulled up outside Khaledi’s family home, bundled him inside, and drove away. The relative, who asked not to be named, told IranWire that he had been found with three bullet holes in his body – but also that the kidnapper was an acquaintance of the family.
Born and raised in Iran, Khaledi had moved to Afghanistan 23 years ago with his wife, children and mother. In 2012 he received his Afghan citizenship with the blessing of then-President Hamid Karzai. He then studied law and political science at Kabul State University and finally found work at a firm importing pharmaceuticals.
In 2019, Khaledi told Euronews that he had been compelled to leave Iran after repeated raids on the family home, in Tehran and then in Qom. He himself was jailed for a time for criticizing the Islamic Republic, and several of his relatives were executed. The family had finally escaped via Sistan and Baluchistan.
But he continued to speak openly about the regime’s abuses from across the border. Relatives told IranWire that Khaledi had already survived two assassination attempts in Afghanistan, and had expressed fears that he was being targeted personally.
The killing has shaken other Iranian-born political refugees who are now effectively stranded in Afghanistan. The musician Homayoun Zarean told IranWire: "Iranian asylum seekers in Afghanistan are lonely and helpless in the face of all kinds of psychological and psychological threats. The Iranian regime can get access to any of us and is trying to eliminate us. The assassination of Saadi Khaledi shows once again that we are all under direct threat.”
The Taliban, meanwhile, have responded to the killing in a strange and opaque manner. After Khaledi’s body was discovered, Taliban mercenaries were posted outside his home in the village of Koluleh Poshteh, Sar-e Pol province, and recorded the identities of all those who came to visit and console the family. Still more worryingly, they told Khaledi’s relatives to report the cause of death as either “illness" or "an accident".
IranWire tried to establish the Taliban’s position on the case. We contacted Anamollah Samangani, Bilal Karimi and Saeed Khosti, three usually responsive Taliban spokesmen, for comment on the scope of any inquiries being made. This time, all three refused to comment. Saadi Khaledi’s son Saeed, however, told IranWire bluntly: "I am an activist, and I know how and by whom Haji [my father] was martyred. But because the case is still ongoing, I don’t want to go into more detail."
A Pakistani Baluch activist, Razegh Mandaei, was also murdered in Afghanistan in the same week as Saadi Khaledi. Two years ago one of Khaledi’s good friends, Molavi Mohammad Ebrahim Safizadeh, a prominent Iranian Sunni scholar in exile, was shot dead in the Bagh-e Morad area of Herat. The finger was pointed at the Islamic Republic then, too, but if the police had had a suspect in mind, they were never found.
This article was written by a citizen journalist in Herat under a pseudonym.