Chronicle of a death foretold: A very Iranian murder

The assassination was a warning to President Hassan Rouhani from the Revolutionary Guard. It should also serve as a warning to those in the West who blinded by Rouhani’s electoral victory think his power in Iran is unopposed

Shots against moderation
Ali Alfoneh
On 15 November 2013 07:57

On November 10, 2013, the day they were going to kill him, Safdar Rahmatabadi, Iran’s deputy minister of industry and commerce, returned home from office at 4:30 pm. Approximately two hours later he left home for a meeting. Around 7:50 pm he drove his blue Peugeot Pars from Sabalan Square to East Janbazan Avenue in Tehran.

Around 8:20 pm pedestrians found Rahmatabadi shot twice behind the wheels: One shot had pierced through his gray pinstriped suit and white shirt, while the second and fatal shot had aimed at the left side of his head.

The angle of the shots indicate that the perpetrator must have been sitting in the passenger seat next to the victim, and a police officer present at the scene disclosed to IRNA that two cartridges were found in the car. Police detectives further disclosed that they had found the address of the scene of the crime in the car, which indicate Rahmatabadi drove to the destination of his own free will, and there was no sign of forced entry into, or struggle inside of, the vehicle.

The deputy minister had been lured to the venue and was shot by someone he knew, but by whom and with what motive?

From the first instance, the Islamic Republic authorities treated the murder of Rahmatabadi as a high profile case. Judge Fereydoun Amir-Abadi, Tehran deputy prosecutor general, and judge Sepidnameh, Tehran criminal investigator, reached the scene as soon as the body was discovered and were later joined by Intelligence Minister Hojjat al-Eslam Mahmoud Alavi.

The authorities, however, were adament in their dismissal of political motives for the murder. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, Colonel Alireza Mehrabi, Greater Tehran Police chief, stressed: “The murder of Mr. Rahmatabadi was probably motivated by personal reasons and not political.”

Ali Abdollahi, deputy interior minister, and Ahmad-Reza Radan, Law Enforcement Forces deputy, too said the murder was not politically motivated. As the police arrested the murder suspect in his home in Eastern Tehran forty-eight hours after the crime, the suspect conveniently confessed his crime and backed up the “personal motive” theory.

Mozaffar Rahmatabadi, brother of the victim however, energetically dismissed the theory: “My brother had no personal problem with anyone,” he insisted. The usually well-informed Tehran based journalist Mohammad Nourizad, shares that skepticism and in an interview with Khodnevis, accuses the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) of the murder.

According to Nourizad, the deputy industry minister had tried to persuade the IRGC to give up its monopoly on operating Iran’s port facilities: The IRGC is subjected to the international sanctions regime, which prevents foreign companies from using the port facilities.

Failing to persuade the IRGC to allow the private sector to take over key functions in the port facilities, the Ministry of Industry and Commerce had barred two IRGC owned companies from operating port facilities. The ministry’s decision allegedly provoked a reaction from the Guards: character assassination of named ministry officials in the parliament, followed by murder.

The assassination of Rahmatabadi was a death foretold: On October 1, 2013, former President Mohammad Khatami warned against “character assassination” which he believed could lead to physical terror.

The assassination was the IRGC’s warning to President Hassan Rouhani not to meddle in its economic activities. It should also serve as a warning to those in the West who, blinded by Rouhani’s electoral victory, think his power in Iran is unopposed.

Ali Alfoneh, Senior Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies

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