Assassination and terrorism in Iran

Numerous civilians, including men, women, children, government officials, activists, secular intellectuals and clerics have been victims of assassination, terrorism, or violence against noncombatants, over the course of modern Iranian history.[1]

Several Iranian prime ministers, president, ministers were assassinated by militant groups during the 20th century. Some notable victims are Prime Ministers Mohammad Javad Bahonar, Shapour Bakhtiar, Amir-Abbas Hoveida, Abdolhossein Hazhir and Haj Ali Razmara; President Mohammad Ali Rajai; Head of Judiciary Mohammad Beheshti; Chief Commander of the Army Ali Sayad Shirazi; and Minister of Labor Dariush Forouhar.

The Cinema Rex Fire and 1998 Serial Murders of Dissident Intellectuals are among the most notable acts of terrorism in Iran. There was a handful of Iranians among the thousands of victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks.[2] Iranian Behnaz Mozakka was among the victims of 7 July 2005 London bombings.

Attacks on Iranians

Assassinations in Qajar era

Shah Mohammad Khan Qajar was assassinated in 1797 in the city of Susa (Shusha), the capital of Karabakh khanate, after about 16 years in power. While Mohammad Khan Qajar's assassination might be called part of the ancient practice of palace intrigue, or motivated simply fear and/or revenge, the May 1, 1896 killing of Shah Nasser al-Din Shah Qajar[3] conforms more closely to the modern phenomenon of terrorism as a tool of a political movement. Nasser al-Din was shot and killed by Mirza Reza Kermani, a follower of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, an early promoter of modern Pan-Islamism. Al-Afghani is reported to have said of the assassination, “surely it was a good deed to kill this bloodthirsty tyrant.” [4]

Fadayan-e Islam

Navab Safavi of Fadayan-e Islam.
Main article: Fadayan-e Islam

Fadayan-e Islam was an Islamic fundamentalist secret society founded in Iran in 1946, by "a charismatic theology student" named Navab Safavi. Safavi sought to "purify Islam" in Iran by ridding it of `corrupting individuals` by means of carefully planned assassinations of certain leading intellectual and political figures.[5] Some of its targets in the late 1940s and early 1950s included secularist author Ahmad Kasravi, former premier Abdul-Hussein Hazhir, Education and Culture Minister Ahmad Zangeneh, and Prime Minister Haj-Ali Razmara. Such was the groups influence and success that it was able to use its powerful clerical supporters to free its assassins from punishment. In the mid-1950s, after the consolidation of the power of the Shah, the group was suppressed and Safavi executed. The group survived as supporters of the Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution of Iran.

Attacks by Mujahedin-e-Khalq

The People's Mujahedin of Iran (also called Mujahedin-e-Khalq, MeK or MKO) is an anti-clerical Islamist guerilla organization regarded by the Iranian, the U.S. governments, and others as a terrorist organization.

On 28 June 1981, bombs set by the MeK killed 70 high-ranking officials of the Islamic Republic Party, including Chief Justice Mohammad Beheshti who was the second highest official after Ayatollah Khomeini at the time. Two years after the Islamic Revolution of Iran, the MeK detonated bombs at the headquarters of the now-dissolved Islamic Republic Party. Two months later, the MeK detonated another bomb in the office of the president, killing President Rajai and Premier Mohammad Javad Bahonar. Their attacks did not succeed in overthrowing the Islamic Republic of Iran government.

In recent years, attacks by or thought to have been by the Mujahedin-e-Khalq include:

1998 Asadollah Lajevardi assassination

Two members of Mujahedin-e-Khalq assassinated Asadollah Lajevardi, a prosecutor and director of Evin Prison, along with his brother and a bystander on 23 August 1998.[6]

1999 Assassination of Ali Sayad Shirazi

On April 10, 1999, 6:45 local time Brigadier-General Ali Sayad Shirazi, deputy chief of staff of the regular army of the Islamic Republic and a military adviser to the Supreme Leader of Iran, was assassinated outside his house as he left for work. The People's Mujahedin of Iran claimed responsibility for the assassination of Sayyad Shirazi, giving as their reason revenge for his role as commander of Iranian ground forces in Operation Mersad against the MeK.[7][8]

State terrorism and the 1998 "Chain murders"

Since the founding of the Islamic Republic, dissidents in Iran have complained of unsolved murders and disappearances of intellectuals and political activists who had been critical of the Islamic Republic system in some way. In 1998 these complaints came to a head with the killing of three dissident writers, a political leader (Dariush Forouhar) and his wife in the span of two months, in what became known as the Chain murders or 1998 Serial Murders of Iran.[9][10][11] of Iranians who had been critical of the Islamic Republic system in some way.[12] Altogether more than 80 writers, translators, poets, political activists, and ordinary citizens are thought to have been killed over the course of several years.[9] The deputy security official of the Ministry of Information, Saeed Emami was arrested for the killings and later committed suicide, although many believe higher level officials were responsible for the killings. According to, "it was widely assumed that [Emami] was murdered in order to prevent the leak of sensitive information about Ministry of Intelligence and Security operations, which would have compromised the entire leadership of the Islamic Republic."[13]

Attacks by Taliban and Sunni extremists

1994 Mashhad bombing

On June 20, 1994 explosion of a bomb in a prayer hall of Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad[14] that killed at least 25 people.[15] The Iranian government officially blamed Mujahedin-e-Khalq for the incident to avoid sectarian conflict between Shias and Sunnis.[16] However, the Pakistani daily The News International reported on March 27, 1995, "Pakistani investigators have identified a 24-year-old religious fanatic Abdul Shakoor residing in Lyari in Karachi, as an important Pakistani associate of Ramzi Yousef. Abdul Shakoor had intimate contacts with Ramzi Ahmed Yousef and was responsible for the June 20, 1994, massive bomb explosion at the shrine Imam Ali Reza in Mashhad."[17] According to the Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor, "a report produced by the [Iranian] Ministry of Intelligence in October 1994 identified the culprits as operatives of Pakistan's "Lashkare Jhangvi"-the sister organization of Sepahe Sahaba."[18]

1998 Mazari Sharif killings

On August 8, 1998 the Taliban assisted by Al-Qaeda, attacked the Afghan city of Mazari Sharif killing 11 Iranian diplomats and journalists along with thousands of Afghan civilians, in what was considered an attack motivated by takfir against Shia.[19]

More infuriating for Iran was the fact that

Tehran had earlier contacted the Pakistan government to guarantee the security of their Consulate, because the Iranians knew that ISI officers had driven into Mazar with the Taliban. The Iranians had thought that Dost Mohammed's unit had been sent to protect them so had welcomed them at first. .... At first the Taliban refused to admit the whereabouts of the diplomats but then as international protests and Iranian fury increased, they admitted that the diplomats had been killed, not on official orders but by renegade Taliban. But reliable sources said that Dost Mohammed had spoken to Mullah Omar on his wireless to ask whether the diplomats should be killed and Omar had given the go-ahead."[20]

Iran was also angry at the lack of support from Western countries, particularly America, which considered Iran an enemy. Referring to the attack, Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei alleges that "neither the Americans, nor the Europeans, who are now pursuing Al-Qaeda agents as members of the most dangerous terror organization, showed any reaction at all."[21]

The Taliban were also thought to have "secretly" backed anti-regime Iranian groups, such as the Iranian Sunni militant group Ahl-e-Sunna Wal Jamaat from Khorasan and Sistan provinces. The group received weapons and support from the Taliban and "Iranians were convinced that the Pakistanis were also sponsoring them." The group sought to overthrow the Shia Iranian government, despite the fact that Iran was overwhelmingly Shia.[22]

Iran responded to the killings by putting its forces on alert and moving troops to the Afghan border, though tensions would subside.

Jundallah (since 2003)

Jundallah, a Sunni Islamist Baloch insurgent organization based in Balochistan, claims to be fighting for the rights of Sunni in Iran.[23] It is believed to have 1,000 fighters and claims to have killed 400 Iranian soldiers.[24] The group has been identified as a terrorist organization by Iran and Pakistan[25] and many believe it is linked to Al-Qaeda.[26] It is also believed to receive support from the US government.[27]

2007 Zahedan bombing

Main article: 2007 Zahedan bombing

A car filled with explosives stopped in front of a bus full of Revolutionary Guards in Ahmabad district, Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchestan Province at 6:30 a.m. on 14 February 2007. The car, parked in the middle of the road, forced the bus to stop. The car's driver and passengers then got out of the car and used motorbikes to leave the scene while they shot at the bus. A few seconds later the bombs exploded, killing 18 Guards. Guards commander Qasem Rezaei said, "This blind terrorist operation led to the martyrdom of 18 citizens of Zahedan." Rezaei attributed the attack to "insurgents and elements of insecurity." Majid Razavi, an Interior Ministry official, said Iranian police arrested a suspect within an hour of the bombing.[28]

Jundallah, an organization some alleged to be affiliated with Al Qaeda,[29] claimed responsibility for the attack on 15 February and said it is retaliation for the executions of those accused of carrying out the Ahvaz Bombings. The Iranian government has arrested five suspects, two of whom were carrying camcorders and grenades when they were arrested, while the police killed the main "agent" of the attack.[30]

Hossein Ali Shahriari, Zahedan's representative in parliament, rhetorically asked, "Why does our diplomatic apparatus not seriously confront the Pakistani government for harboring bandits and regime's enemies? Why do security, military and police officials not take more serious action?"[30]

2001 Tehran attacks

MeK members fired five rockets at the general command of the Internal Security Forces in Tehran, killing and injuring several, on 7 January 2001.[31] MEK members fired mortar shells at several government buildings, including the Supreme Court, in Tehran on 21 January 2001.[32]

2005 Ahvaz Bombings

Main article: Ahvaz Bombings

The Ahvaz bombings were a series of bomb explosions that took place mostly in Ahvaz, Iran. The bombings were linked to previous suppression of the Arab unrest in Ahvaz, occurred earlier in 2005. The first bombing came ahead of the presidential election on 12 June. Interior Ministry official Mohammad Hussein Motahar said at the time:[33]

Two bombs were hidden in toilets within the building of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and at the Office of Construction and Civil Engineering. The third bomb exploded in front of the house of the governor of Khuzestan Province. All three of these explosions were in the city center of Ahvaz. Another bomb was hidden in the doorway of the house of a [state] radio and television official in Ahvaz. The bomb went off when the door was opened.

2008 Shiraz bombing

Main article: 2008 Shiraz explosion

A terrorist bombing inside a mosque in Shiraz in April 2008 killed 14 people including 10 men, 2 women and 2 children. More than 200 were also injured. Responsibility for the attack has not been determined.

2008 convoy bombing

According to Western news reports, at least 15 people were killed and scores wounded in a July 2008 explosion in Tehran. Initially there was a news black-out on the explosion in Iran and Revolutionary Guards launched an investigation into the causes of the blast and the possibility that sabotage was involved. There had been "a number of unexplained explosions in recent months." The convoy was reported to be carrying arms for Hezbollah when it exploded.[34]

2010–2012 scientist assassinations

Four Iranian nuclear scientists were assassinated between 2010 and 2012, and a fifth was wounded in a failed assassination attempt. The Iranian government has accused Israel of committing the attacks, a claim which Israel has neither confirmed nor denied.

See also


  1. "Iran, victim of terrorism and discrimination". Retrieved 22 November 2014.
  2. Steele, Jonathan (2001-09-25). "Iran takes a wary step towards the west". The Guardian. London.
  3. Clay, Catrine (2006), King, Kaiser, Tsar. London: John Murray
  4. Nikki R. Keddie, Sayyid Jamal ad-Din “al-Afghani”: A Political Biography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972), p.412
  5. Taheri, The Spirit of Allah, (1985), p.98
  6. Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MeK) attacked Government target (Aug. 23, 1998, Iran) Archived September 26, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. MIPT Terror Knowledge Base
  7. "Ali Sayed Shirazi". Archived from the original on 2006-05-02. dead link
  9. 1 2 "Killing of three rebel writers turns hope into fear in Iran", Douglas Jehl, New York Times, December 14, 1998 p. A6
  10. RFE/RL Iran Report
  11. Green Left - Regular Feature: Write On: Letters to Green Left Weekly
  12. Elaine Sciolino, Persian Mirrors : the Elusive Face of Iran, Free Press, 2000, p.241
  13. A Man Called Saeed Emani Archived September 11, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  14. ABC Evening News for Monday, Jun 20, 1994
  15. Explosive circles: Iran. (Mashhad bombing)
  16. "Special Analysis: The Ashura Massacre". Retrieved 22 November 2014.
  17. SIPAH-E-SAHABA PAKISTAN, LASHKAR-E-JHANGVI, BIN LADEN & RAMZI YOUSEF Archived January 28, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  18. "The Iranian Intelligence Services and the War On Terror By Mahan Abedin". Retrieved 22 November 2014.
  19. Human Rights Watch Report, `Afghanistan, the massacre in Mazar-e-Sharif`, November 1998
  20. Rashid, Ahmed, Taliban : Militant Islam, Oil & Fundamentalism in Central Asia, Yale University Press, 2000 p.74-5
  21. We Cannot Believe Muslims Are Behind Terrorism in Iraq: Leader Archived September 27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  22. Rashid, Ahmed, Taliban : Militant Islam, Oil & Fundamentalism in Central Asia, Yale University Press, 2000 p.203
  23. "Preparing the Battlefield". The New Yorker. 7 July 2008. Retrieved 22 November 2014.
  24. Massoud, Ansari (January 16, 2006). "Sunni group vows to behead Iranians". Washington Times. Retrieved 2007-04-05.
  25. 2nd blast in 3 days hits Iranian city, 16 February 2007Al-Qaeda's New Face, August 2004
  26. The legacy of Nek Mohammed By Syed Saleem Shahzad Archived November 29, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  27. "Seymour Hersh: US Training Jundullah and MEK for Bombing Preparation". Retrieved 22 November 2014.
  28. Report: Bomb kills 18 Revolutionary Guardsmen in Iran The Washington Post
  29. Al-Qaeda gains Palestine foothold Scotsman
  30. 1 2 11 Guards killed in Iran bomb attack Gulf Times
  31. Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MeK) attacked Government target (Jan. 7, 2001, Iran) Archived September 26, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. MIPT Terror Knowledge Base
  32. Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MeK) attacked Government target (Jan. 21, 2001, Iran) Archived September 30, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. MIPT Terror Knowledge Base
  33. Con Coughlin (24 July 2008). "Iranian military convoy rocked by mystery explosion". Retrieved 22 November 2014.
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