Iranian opposition sources note correctly that whenever their government faces an unexpected setback or wields an iron fist to suppress disaffection, it tends to point the finger at foreign enemies, accusing them of stirring up trouble for the Islamic Revolution.
In the case of Prof. Masoud Ali-Mohammadi, the nuclear scientist killed by an exploding motor-cycle operated by remote control outside his home, Tuesday, Jan. 12, Tehran went through the entire list – Israel, the UK, the US and the exiled dissident group, Mojeheddin Khalq.
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Maehman Parsat commented: “Preliminary investigation of the scene yielded clear evidence of this suspicion.”
Granted, Iranian nuclear scientists have gone missing in mysterious circumstances and one or more may have been assassinated, possibly in suspicious road accidents.
When Ardeshir Hossein Pour, a nuclear physicist attached to Shiraz University, died at his home in that city in 2007, the authorities claimed a freak gas leak caused his death. Last year, Prof. Shahram Amiri went missing while on pilgrimage inSaudi Arabia and is believed to be feeding his American de-briefers valuable secrets.
But there is plenty of evidence to support the high probability of Ali-Mohammadi's liquidation by the security police or a radical faction within the Iranian Intelligence Ministry, MOIS, according to opposition sources. This faction is said to be zealous enough to conjure up a murder as proof that the opposition reform movement will go to any lengths to destabilize the regime headed by Ayatollah Ali Khameneiand Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The propaganda machine was ready to roll
This theory does not cover all the facts.
An alternative harbored in opposition circles is that the regime has simply gone over to liquidating key dissidents. It is noted in this connection that the late Ali-Mohammedi's name appeared on a list of 420 academics, who supported Mir Hossein Mousavi's bid for the presidency against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the June, 2009 election.
Any sign of protest would be officially termed by the regime foreign-instigated rather than homegrown.
Two inexplicable features of the case are Ali-Mohammadi's residence in an ordinary apartment building in North Tehran without guards and his use of a car of a cheap make without the usual protective gadgets. This tends to confirm that he was not a part of the nuclear weapons program, because the nuclear scientists who are, are herded into heavily-guarded housing estates, their personal movements closely monitored. They travel in armored cars with bodyguards and must submit to strict procedures governing their movements, friends and private visits.
A second mystery: An hour after the murder at 07:58 a.m. local time, the Iranian FARS news agency identified the victim as a nuclear scientist, contrary to official caginess about former attacks on Iranian scientists and in defiance of intelligence logic. State TV crews and even Iranian TV English station PRESS TV reporters were at the scene in a trice, reporting live on location throughout the day.
The dead scientist was known in international scientific circles as a frequent convention-goer. He visited the Jordanian capital of Amman regularly to attend the meetings of Sesame, the Jordanian-based regional research center, which is also patronized by Israeli colleagues.
Had he been suspected of clandestine ties with, or passing information to, the Israelis, he would have been secretly arrested and interrogated under severe torture before vanishing without trace.
This did not happen. In fact he appeared to be free of the travel ban imposed in the past year on Iran's nuclear scientists.
A low-key, unremarkable target
The website takavaran-tondar.tk, purporting to belong to the monarchist Iranian Royal Council, took responsibility for the murder. This claim was widely aired by Iran's media (which were not bothered by previously running reports accusing Israel, the US, and the UK of the deed).
But members of the group were quick to deny they had anything to do with this website and disavowed its content.
Iranian opposition figures told DEBKA-Net-Weekly sources that the site is merely a front for the Revolutionary Guards Corps, designed to draw regime opponents out into the open and/or sow divisions among them.
The well-known Iranian columnist and commentator Ahmad Shir-Zad, a close friend of the murdered man, wrote on his websitehttp://shirzad.ir/2010/01/post_164.html that Ali-Mohammadi was a supporter ofAyatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, but otherwise a moderate Muslim. Far from being a political fireball, he was honest, dependable and drawn to compromise rather than disputes.
According to his friend, the dead scientist was a physicist but had never to his knowledge worked on nuclear projects. The two were indeed very sympathetic to Mousavi's presidential candidacy. Ali-Mohammadi also helped the opposition leader campaign and took part in some of the protest marches against Ahmedinejad's election
None of this solves the riddle of the assassination, say our sources: If it was indeed the work of a radical regime-based faction intending to score a political point or incriminate opponents, why murder a little-known, low-key figure with no dramatic political activity to his name like Ali-Mohammadi?
A website called Faryad Bi-Seda, “Voiceless Cry”, claims that the dead scientist was planning to migrate to Sweden and had started preparing his move. This is hardly a good enough reason for his public execution in the style of a targeted liquidation.
Many questions therefore swirl around this bizarre affair and may never be answered.