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.