Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tehran University professor Massoud Alimohammadi assassinated: fact and fiction

A Tehran University physics professor was killed in a bomb blast in front of his Tehran home this morning, January 12, 2009.

Massoud Alimohammadi was driving away from his home when a device placed inside a parked motorcycle was detonated.

Amateur footage posted to YouTube shows the scene minutes after the blast and before the arrival of the police:

The official story

Official Iranian news sources almost immediately went into overdrive. Borna news, close to the government, referred to Alimohammadi as a 'senior nuclear scientist' in an article posted at 10:48 AM.

Borna's journalist was one of the first at the scene of the crime and its photos provide an idea of the strength of the conflagration which blew out the windows of the building across from Alimohammadi's house:

Journalists could freely photograph and film the scene:

The photos also show the investigators and several dozen people trampling the crime scene:

One of the many people present points to the bloodstains on the ground, next to the magistrate's vehicle:

Images also show a cleaning crew shoveling debris which could have contained evidence:

Fars news, a semi-official news outlet close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), reported that the professor had been killed by 'anti-revolutionary elements.' Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast announced that the opposition, the United States, and Israel were behind the attack.

Fars published an interview with an alleged student of the late professor, Seyed Mohammad Kazem Manzourolajdad, who stated that Alimohammadi 'worked with the IRGC from the start of the [Iran-Iraq] War (NB 1980) until 2003,' though it is unclear why a student would have access to such information. Manzourolajdad also allegedly told Fars that Alimohammadi 'stood firm behind the principles of the Islamic system and the velayateh faghih' (NB Principle of the guardianship of the jurisprudent, from which Leader Ali Khamenei derives his power). The Basij militia also co-opted the slain professor in a statement which condemned the 'martyrdom of Massoud Alimohammadi, a Basiji and Jihadist professor.'

In a television report which shows the remnants of Alimohammadi's automobile and the motorcycle, the chief magistrate in charge of criminal affairs, Fakhreddine Jafarzadeh, was more circumspect and only offered that the explosion had taken place on Soheil Street and that the device with a remote detonator had been secreted inside a motorcycle next to the professor's front door:

Mirzapour Street, still universally called by its former name of Soheil Street, is in Tehran's Gheytarieh neighborhood:

View Mirzapour Street - Tehran in a larger map

Jafarzadeh was more loose-lipped in an interview with Fars news, in which he said that 'the Tehran judge on duty had been informed of the explosion at 8:05 AM.' Later in the interview, he said that the explosion had taken place at 7:58 AM, therefore indicating that the judge knew of the blast 7 minutes after it occurred. Health Ministry spokesman Abbas Zareh-nejad declared in the afternoon that two other individuals, whom he did not name, had been injured in the explosion.

Though state media had declared since early morning that anti-regime forces were behind the terrorist attack, it was not until 1:30 PM that the villains were designated by name: the Anjomaneh Padeshahi Iran (NB The Monarchist Association of Iran, also known as the API). According to various news reports, including one by Safir News, an offshoot of IRNA created several months ago with the avowed goal of countering the 'soft revolution' engineered by foreign media, the API had taken responsibility for the assassination on its web site.

The API, along with the MKO, is one of the official bogeymen of the Islamic regime. Several political prisoners have been charged with membership in the organization, which has been blamed for orchestrating some of the post-election unrest. Regime officials have been loudly calling for the execution of its members in recent weeks.

The facts

Alimohammadi obtained his Phd in elementary particle physics from Sharif University in 1992, according to Tehran University. His field is linked to nuclear physics and may have weapons applications, though no information that has surfaced thus far indicates that Alimohammadi engaged in such work.

His personal page on Tehran University's web site has a link to published articles which can be downloaded in PDF format. He appears to have been fairly prolific, publishing two to four articles a year (from 1993 to 2009) on arcane topics such as 'Berry phase for spin-1/2 particles moving in a spacetime with torsion' or 'Large-N limit of the two-dimensional Yang-Mills theory on surfaces with boundaries.' His last published work in 2009 is on 'Remarks on generalized Gauss-Bonnet dark energy.' He does not appear to have been particularly secretive about his work.

In the summer of 2004, Alimohammadi even gave an interview to Gamma, a quarterly Farsi-language physics magazine, which describes its articles as educational and cultural.(Issue 3's table of contents)

In comparison, Shahram Amiri, a nuclear scientist who went missing in Saudi Arabia this summer and is believed to have been involved in Iran's nuclear program, did not publish any works in recent years and did not give interviews. Amiri is thought to have defected to a Western intelligence organization.

Alimohammadi was also a non-resident researcher at the school of physics of the Institute for Research in Fundamental Sciences (NB Pajouheshgah Daneshhayeh Bonyadi, also knows by its acronym IPM, which stands for the Institute for Studies in Theoretical Physics and Mathematics). Strangely, Alimohammadi was not a researcher at the school of particles and accelerators. Had he been, he may have attended a seminar with Professor John Hauptmann of Iowa State University. Hauptmann gave a talk on 'New ideas for big detectors in high energy physics' at Tehran's Institute for Research in Fundamental Sciences on January 6, 2010, according to the institute's site. Would the State Department allow Hauptmann to give a talk there if the researchers were suspected of links to the nuclear program? Possible, but improbable. The instiute is run, by the way, by Mohammad Javad Larijani, regime apologist and brother of the Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani and judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani.

Despite the claims of official news outlets, Alimohammadi does not seem to have been a supporter of the current government. He is one of the 420 signatories of a statement in support of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi's run for president. The statement, entitled 'The support of 420 professors of Tehran University and the school of medical sciences for Mir Hossein Mousavi,' was posted on the web site of Academic Supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi on June 9, 2009, three days before the ill-fated election. (Screen capture of the statement to the right, with Alimohammadi's name highlighted).'The presidential election is one of the most important manifestations of the most fundamental human right, the right to determine one's fate,' the statement reads. 'We, [...]while respecting the other candidates, express our firm support for Mr. Engineer Mousavi.'

A blog which purports to be run by opposition supporters at UCLA stated that Alimohammadi had applied to spend a year researching at a university in Stockholm, Sweden. It is impossible to confirm this allegation at this time.

As for the supposed masterminds behind the plot... The Monarchist Association of Iran (NB Anjomaneh Padeshahi Iran or API) was created by a former actor, dubber, and film director Foroud Fouladvand. The group does not support the Pahlavi dynasty, but is nostalgic about Iran's former empire. Fouladvand disappeared under suspicious circumstances while in Turkey, near the Iran border, in 2007. Amnesty International gives an account here and believes that Fouladvand is being held in secret in a Tehran prison. Ever since, various individuals have claimed the mantle of leader and two competing web sites have been established.

The original API, based in London, says that both web sites, Tondar (NB Thunder) and Takavaraneh Tondar (NB Thunder Runners), are controlled by the Islamic regime's Intelligence Ministry. There is reason to believe these accusations. Tondar, for example, clearly states that Mohammad Reza Ali Zamani is an API member and that his alias is Bardia. Zamani is currently in prison in Iran and on trial for fomenting unrest after the disputed election of June 12.

The Takavaraneh Tondar web site is much more radical. It encourages armed resistance, highlights videos of rioters breaking public property, and even has pages explaining how to build bombs. (A screen capture of the bomb-building page can be seen to the right.) The site seems to be more an agent provocateur than a genuine opposition source of information.

It is Takavaraneh Tondar which issued a statement claiming responsibility for Alimohammadi's assassination. A screen capture of that statement, complete with celebratory fireworks next to a photo of Alimohammadi can be seen below:

State media in Iran quickly latched onto this claim of responsibility, although the original API in London denied the allegations.


  1. I think if Israel had had a hand in this, they would not have bothered with a mere scientist: they would have gone for the heads of the monster,

    ahmadi and Kh

  2. Excellent post. Will link from my blog.

  3. Thanks! Excellent, as always!

  4. I am a theoretical physicist.
    As I have explained other places, his articles are all of very theoretical/mathematical nature (quantum groups, Yang-Mills theory on curved spacetime, dark matter and such). None of these are closely related to what is needed to build a nuclear reactor, that is a job for experimental physicists and mainly engineers. It not very likely that he could do anything of importance in a nuclear project. Not to mention he could not be trusted, being a supporter of Moussavi.

    It is quit convenient that a foreign agency has killed a physicist unimportant for the nuclear project and a political opponent, in a time the regime really needs stuff for propaganda.

  5. It is clear that the regime planned and executed the assassination mainly to distract the opposition movement and pull people to its side. The regime tried to pull a similar stunt during the election riots by claiming a bomb had gone off at Khomeini's mausoleum, which turned out to be fabricated by the regime itself for similar motives.

  6. People, this man wasn't political. There is no way that his house was bombed by the Iranian government. Governments no matter how awful don't go around bombing their own neighborhoods to kill someone.
    Since everything here is here say here is a plausible scenario.

    1. Western government particularly Israel have plans to assassinate scientist and sabotage Iranian nuclear sites. Seymour Hersh has written about it at least on two occasion. Other Proof? here is a link!


    2. Remote control bombs are a trade mark of Mossad.

    3. Use of motorcycles in assassinations and bombing are trade marks of MEK terrorist cult since 1960's.

    This thing was planned by Israel and executed by MEK terrorist cult. MEK terrorist cult hand writing is all over it.

    Now about his involvement in nuclear program in Iran. He may or may have not been involved. But focusing on his research and assuming that what he was focused had no relevance to Iran nuclear program is false. He was certainly credentialed to be involved and nuclear physics and technology has many aspects to it. Besides this act of terror may have been done completely on false intelligence by the Israeli Mossad. They are known to have assassinated people on wrong intelligence such as the moroccan waiter in norway taking him for a palestinian terrorist. MEK also feeds wrong information to and outright fabricates information for western intelligence agencies, they may have just been on the take from Israelis to feed them names and just picked up a professor of physics from Tehran university. Who knows.

    But the long and short of it is apparently there is a plan to assassinate Iranian scientists and unfortunately Mr. Alimohamedi isn't the first one, and may not be the last.

  7. Hi homylafayette:
    I made some of the same observations as yours, regarding the crime scene. It is not properly cordoned off. From the limited views afforded by the two films I've seen, I'm concerned by the apparent lack of proper evidence gathering. Forensic teams are not visible in the videos. And the deployment of street cleaning crews is premature, to say the least, at one point being carried out while the victim is hoisted onto a gurney and placed inside an emergency ambulance. I agree, there are many instances of crime scene contamination being recorded in the videos.

    Judging by the damage to the vehicles and surrounding environment, it appears the bomb was a high explosive type rather than anti-personnel. In certain respects, the damage to the car actually looks worse than the cycle. This may be indicative of the design of the explosive.

    I heard that the original source of the API claim was a radio broadcast, purportedly made at a studio in the US. But at this point, there is a lot of information like this that is swirling around, and nothing approaching definitive can yet be ascertained.

    I have to say, the bomb in the API bomb-making web site screen capture looks like a fairly specialized device; not the improvised types characteristic of grassroot terror organizations, or even devices used by Iraqi insurgents in the war in Iraq.

    I'll try to add more commentary when I have more time and more info is available.

    Iran's politics aside, it is a sad for the scientific community.

  8. I agree with the last anonymous. Dr. Alimohammadi was not particularly political to be worth such effort, nor had he had a connection to the Nuclear project. It might well be a result of bad intelligence. He is not the first scientist to disappear, beside Amiri there are others who are missing too, and Israelis have admitted as a policy that they are after Iranian scientist anywhere they find them. But I can not for sure say that MKO is involved, the Monarchists (of the anjoman padeshahi ilks) are also susidising MOSAD works.

  9. At 12:04 "Anonymous" posted a patently pro-coup-regime comment. I guess it is a compliment to Homy Lafayette that they felt it necessary to publish their blatant nonsense on this blog as an attempt at disinformation on the Alimohammadi case.

    One quote from "Anonymous 12:04" will suffice: "Governments, no matter how awful, don't go around bombing their own neighborhoods to kill someone." This from a regime known to have raped, tortured and killed those who oppose it (and Alimohammadi, we know, signed a pro-Mousavi statement in June).

    The test of these things is always "qui bono," who benefits? This was a mathematical physicist as pointed out above, with a track record of purely theoretical journal articles. Anyone who knows physics and engineering would know Alimohammadi was of no use or interest to Iran's nuclear program. The coup-regime thinks that this will serve their interests in two ways: 1) they got rid of another opponent, sending a message that no one is safe. 2) As the speed and detail of the officially sanctioned reports reveals, the regime is anxious to play the "outside intervention" card once again. It is a tired game from a bankrupt regime. How many re-runs before the end, please?

  10. The claim that Israel or the USA is behind this makes less sense than the claim that government or some other group close to the government is behind it.

    In both cases, though, the iranian regime will abuse this situation to their advantage, and the people in Iran are in no way better off.

    Whoever chose him, did want to kill him, for whatever reason - it was a targeted killing.

    When you write "who benefits", then there is something else to ask, and this is "who does not benefit".

    And it is clear that the people of Iran do not benefit if supporters of the opposition are removed. Israel may benefit, the USA may benefit, and the iranian regime may benefit.


  11. I agree fully with @Khazelton here. thank you homylafayette (where does the name come from. lafayette helping the americans gain their independence??) for great detective work. Here the regime that refuses to allow journalists to do independent investigation, who does not allow foreign journalist they are the culprits just for that fact.

  12. one poster said 'Remote control bombs are a trademark of Mossad', lmao, heard of IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  13. Excellent post as usual. Well done

  14. Looking over additional evidence, such as MEHR photos of the blast damage to a nearby structure, the bomb may well have possessed an AP component. Unfortunately, there are no pics of shrapnel, and none can be discerned in the swept debris or otherwise.

    Appears to be a Type 3 equivilant IED (bomb).

    Determining responsibility for this bombing is not possible at this time, given available open sourced data.

  15. Just to say that you do a fantastic work with this blog.

  16. To promote the idea Israel and the US are responsible is so ludicrous as to be equivalent to claiming Iran is a Democracy and not a theocratic dictatorship with the usual thug enforcers. This time the thugs are the guardians, basij and iranian national guard.

    The Iranian elite are doing the expected-Getting rid of a clearly nominal scientist opposed to the Iranian elite’s twisted version of the world as an excuse for further excess against fellow Iranians and external opponents.

    But I must say ‘Revenge against..’ reverberating in the Iranian mosques now days is so much nicer than ‘Death to..’

  17. Thanks to readers who have added insight to this issue, particularly the physicist and Mark who shared his extensive military-law enforcement knowledge.

    In response to Setareh, yes, General Lafayette holds a particular position in my personal pantheon.

  18. About the two websites,

    nobody said anything. In fact

    the second no longer exists.

    The first doing a whois, gives

    a US address, but other

    jargon that I dont understand,

    maybe others can interprete.

    If, as suggested in article they

    are stooge sites, or at least

    the second, as it has

    disappeared, it would seem to

    be a highly suspect operation.

    It would be interesting to know

    a bit more about it.. The

    second site has obviously

    pages saved in web archives

    anyway. But I don't

    understand the language.

  19. second site suspended was at Ile of Man (offshore)