Iran: Prof killing 'terrorism'

2010-01-13 22:37

Tehran -  Two former Iranian presidents on Wednesday condemned a bomb attack that killed a physics professor who had backed the nation's opposition leader, calling the remote-controlled blast an act of terrorism that could deepen unrest and violence.

The separate statements by Mohammad Khatami and Hashemi Rafsanjani did not directly accuse any group for detonating the bomb-rigged motorcycle on Tuesday that claimed the life of the 50-year-old researcher and lecturer, whose work included some aspects of nuclear theory.

But each honoured Masoud Ali Mohammadi as a victim of terrorism and warned the attack could intensify the tensions and bloodshed between anti-government groups and the security forces of the Islamic leadership.

The statements also added to the puzzling array of claims and clues following the attack.

Iranian officials quickly blamed an exile opposition group they claim has ties to the United States and Israel - charges strongly denied by the State Department. Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani repeated the claims against the United States on Wednesday.

A hard-line militia group, the Basij, also praised Ali Mohammadi as a martyr.

The professor, however, had few apparent links outside the academic community.

He was not known to have any key roles in the opposition movement, although his name appeared on a university petition pledging support for reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi before last June's disputed election. The spokesperson for Iran's atomic energy agency said Ali Mohammadi had no involvement in Iran's nuclear programme.

Khatami, a strong Mousavi backer who has denounced the escalating crackdowns on opposition protesters, said the bomb attack was carried out by groups seeking to "further destabilize the crisis."

Ugly face

In a statement of condolence to the professor's wife posted on Khatami's Web site, he said the "ugly face of terrorism" was behind the bombing. But he did not make any direct accusations.

"The dirty hand who did this murder with no doubt was the enemy of Iran," wrote Khatami, whose 1997-2005 presidency was marked by efforts at widening Iran's political and social freedoms.

Rafsanjani's statement, carried by the semi-official ILNA news agency, called the bombing "cowardly terrorism" and a sign of "a new era of intrigue" in Iran.

Rafsanjani, who served as president from 1989 to 1997, has not publicly endorsed the opposition, but has waged political battles against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He has been sidelined from the prestigious role as the leader of Friday prayers at Tehran University, although he retains his posts among the ruling clerics.

Some reformist websites have called for supporters to honour Ali Mohammadi - which could bring another round of street clashes.

Ahmad Shirzad, one of Ali Mohammadi's former classmates, said in a commentary published on Wednesday that the scientist was a moderate figure and was not close to powerful conservatives.

Larijani, the parliament speaker, repeated Iran's accusations of US involvement and said Washington might have been encouraged by the post election unrest to take bold action to intimidate Iran's nuclear scientists.

"Perhaps they assumed that, given some domestic disputes, there was an opportunity to take such action and intimidate university professors and cause damage to the country's nuclear research activities," he said.

Bad fate

Larijani accused the Obama administration of state terrorism and said, "A bad fate awaits you in this adventurous move."

In Washington, State Department spokesperson Mark Toner dismissed the Iranian claims of US involvement as "absurd." Israel's Foreign Ministry had no comment.

As Iran presses its crackdown against opposition supporters, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy said Iranian intelligence agents arrested his father on Tuesday at the family's home in the city of Qom.

Mehdi Khalaji said the agents seized the family's passports, as well as notes, books, personal letters, a computer and a satellite receiver.

The well-known political analyst, who has often been quoted in Western and Iranian media reports, believes his family was in part targeted to pressure him.

His father, Mohammad Taqi Khalaji, a cleric, has expressed support for the opposition and criticism of the country's leaders in recent speeches.

Khalaji said officials have not told the family where his father is being held.

A New York-based rights group said on Wednesday that Iranian authorities had released all 33 women detained last week during their weekly vigil for their children killed or missing in the post election turmoil.

The last detainees among the group, known as the Mourning Mothers, were freed late on Tuesday, said Hadi Ghaemi, a spokesperson for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.