Assassins on a motorbike murdered the local leader of an Iranian opposition group during the morning rush hour here Tuesday in an attack that exiles immediately blamed on the fundamentalist Tehran government.
Mohammed Hussein Naghdi, 42, shot in the face and abdomen, was mortally wounded in the attack.
A former charge d'affaires who represented Iran before the Italian government and the Holy See, Naghdi broke with the Iranian government in 1982 and had since then directed the Rome office of the opposition group called the National Council of Resistance.
Italian authorities, no strangers to the fallout of Middle Eastern political trauma, termed the killing political and summoned anti-terrorist specialists. There was no trace of the killers Tuesday night.
The murder was the latest in a series of killings that opponents of the Iranian government lay at its door. In a statement, the resistance council, an umbrella grouping of opponents to the Tehran regime, blamed the killing on "diplomat-terrorists" in the employ of the Iranian government.
The Iranian Embassy here denied the charge. In Tehran, the government's Islamic Republic News Agency attributed the murder to a dispute among exiles, the Associated Press reported.
The assassination on a bright, spring-like morning apparently benefited from the regularity of Naghdi's schedule. His home and office were both guarded, but not his route between them, Italian police spokesman Antonio Vecchione told reporters.
Police said Naghdi, who was married to an Italian, was assigned home-and-office protection three years ago after the murder in Switzerland of Kazem Rajavi, elder brother of Massoud Rajavi, the leader of the exile council dominated by his Moujahedeen, the main opposition group.
In a telegram from Paris to Italian officials Tuesday, Rajavi said that Naghdi had received recent threats, and he accused "terrorists dispatched to Rome by the religious-terrorist dictatorship ruling Iran" of the murder.
Colleagues said Iran's late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had issued a death sentence against Naghdi and that he was recently reminded of it in an anonymous phone call.