Iranian Murders in the West
2:27 PM, Oct 18, 2011 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
Americans were stunned on October 11 when the Justice Department unsealed its complaint against Mansour Arbabsiar, a 56-year-old used-car dealer from Corpus Christi now in federal custody, and Ali Gholam Shakuri, a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force. Shakuri remains inside Iran. The pair have been charged with conspiring to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington, Adel Al-Jubeir.
As disclosed by the Treasury Department, the plot was coordinated by Arbabsiar’s cousin, Abdul Reza Shahlai, a top Quds Force functionary whom the Treasury designated in 2008 as one of several “individuals and entities fueling violence in Iraq.” Shahlai was described then as the planner of “special group attacks” by the Mahdi Army, headed by Moktada Al-Sadr, against Coalition forces on the territory of Iran’s western neighbor.
The Arbabsiar affair is not the first terrorism case involving an Iranian agent in the United States. In 1980, the year after the Iranian Revolution, foreign-directed Islamist homicide on American soil was inaugurated in Bethesda, Md., when Ali Akbar Tabatabai, 50, was killed at his home. A former press attache of the Iranian Embassy in Washington, under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Tabatabai was shot dead by David Belfield, an African-American Muslim.
Tabatabai’s offense, in the view of the Tehran regime, was having founded the Iran Freedom Foundation (IFF) to oppose the Islamic revolutionary regime. Belfield fled successfully to Iran, changing his name to Dawud Salahuddin, then to Hassan Tantai, and later to Hassan Abdulrahman. He continues to live there, a fugitive from U.S. authorities.
In an interview with ABC News 20/20 broadcast in 1996, Belfield confessed to the Tabatabai crime and said he had been paid $5,000 by the Iranian revolutionary regime for it. Calling himself Tantai, he acted in the Iranian film Kandahar, released in 2002. Like Arbabsiar, Belfield was not an intelligence professional. Rather, he was a security guard at an Iranian diplomatic office in Washington when he was hired to kill Tabatabai, according to an interview with the New York Times in 2009 (given as Hassan Abdulrahman).
After the Arbabsiar investigation was revealed last week, Belfield, once more using the name Salahuddin, was interviewed from Istanbul by the Christian Science Monitor. In the Monitor’s words, “Several attempts in the U.S. that Salahuddin was aware of failed . . . after his successful hit.”
While Belfield’s assassination of Tabatabai still evokes memories in the Washington metropolitan area, a second assassination of an Iranian in the U.S. is seldom discussed. As noted in the 2008 report No Safe Haven: Iran’s Global Assassination Campaign, published by the Iranian Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC), a 51-year-old woman named Nareh Rafizadeh was killed by gunfire in New Jersey in 1992. Nareh Rafizadeh was targeted presumably because her husband and brother-in-law had been agents of the shah’s intelligence service.
Mansour Arbabsiar’s family relationship with Abdul Reza Shahlai is reminiscent of another notorious assassination: that of the last prime minister under the shah, Shapour Bakhtiar, and his secretary, in France in 1991. Bakhtiar had been pursued by five different Iranian death squad teams, one of which killed a female neighbor of Bakhtiar and a French policeman in 1980. When Bakhtiar was slain, two of the killers escaped and two were arrested and tried. One of the latter pair, Zeyal Sarhadi, was the great-nephew of Iran’s then-president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Sarhadi was acquitted, while his accomplice, Ali Vakili Rad, served 18 years in a French prison and was released last year.