The Tehran Connection

An exclusive look at how Iran hunts down its opponents abroad

  • Share
  • Read Later

(8 of 9)

The cooperation may reflect Bonn's efforts to win the freedom of two German nationals being held on espionage charges in Tehran. But it may also be related to the fact that Bonn is Tehran's No. 1 trading partner: apart from oil, 50% of Iran's exports end up in Germany, and last year Iran imported $2.4 billion worth of German goods. Last month the German government guaranteed a refinancing package on about $2.35 billion worth of loans to Iran.

The Men Behind the Veil

The official believed to be most directly responsible for the assassination squads is Intelligence Minister Fallahian, 45, a black-bearded mullah who was born into a religious family and educated in the holy city of Qum. An ardent follower of Ayatullah Khomeini, Fallahian spent time in the Shah's jails for spreading antigovernment propaganda. His political rise began after the 1979 revolution, when he became a religious magistrate. He quickly won a reputation, say dissidents, as a "hanging judge," because of his penchant for handing down death sentences. He became the government's acting chief prosecutor in 1982.

Head of intelligence since 1988, Fallahian is believed to play a key role in organizing covert operations abroad. According to an Oct. 6, 1993, report by Germany's federal criminal department, two dozen foreign-based opposition figures have been assassinated since he took over the ministry. In an August 1992 interview on Iranian TV, Fallahian openly boasted of his organization's success in stalking Tehran's opponents. "We track them abroad too," he said. "Last year ((1991, the year of Bakhtiar's assassination)) we succeeded in striking fundamental blows to their top members."

According to Western intelligence and Iranian dissident sources, decisions to assassinate opponents at home or abroad are made at the highest level of the Iranian government: the Supreme National Security Council. The top political decision-making body is chaired by Rafsanjani and includes, among others, Fallahian, Velayati and Ali Khamenei, who succeeded Khomeini as the revolution's spiritual guide in 1989. The council's secretary, parliamentary ; vice president Hassan Rouhani, was recently quoted in the Iranian newspaper Ettela'at, vowing that Iran "will not hesitate to destroy the activities of counterrevolutionary groups abroad."

One man high on Tehran's current hit list is Manouchehr Ganji. A former education minister under the Shah, Ganji, 63, heads a Paris-based opposition group known as the Flag of Freedom, which has monarchist origins but seeks "democratic" change in Iran. Guarded at all times by a six-man French antiterrorist squad, Ganji moves about Paris in a bulletproof car and works behind heavy metal doors with coded locks. "I live the life of a rat, going from one hole to another," he says. As head of a Western-backed organization that broadcasts anti-regime propaganda into Iran, where he claims to have substantial underground networks, Ganji is considered a "prime target."

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9