Shooting Leaves Iranian Reformist Seriously Hurt


A would-be assassin, reportedly riding a powerful motorcycle of a type restricted by law to police and security agents, on Sunday shot and seriously wounded one of Iran’s leading reformist politicians and newspaper editors on a Tehran street.

The attack on Saeed Hajjarian, who friends said had been threatened in recent weeks by apparent religious hard-liners, sent shock waves through the Iranian political establishment just weeks after the hard-line conservative camp was humiliated in national parliamentary elections.

“The enemies of freedom wrongly believe they can attain their goals by assassinating a pious intellectual who was serving the nation,” said President Mohammad Khatami, describing himself as shocked by the attempt on the life of one of his key political advisors.

The gunman and an accomplice sped away on the motorcycle after the shooting and remained at large and unidentified late Sunday.

There were no claims of responsibility for the attack, but speculation focused on the possibility that it was the work of an extremist clique unhappy with the lopsided election results that will deprive conservative clerics of significant legislative power for the first time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.


The new 290-member parliament is scheduled to be seated in May after a second round of voting to settle a number of undecided races.

Iran has been in the throes of what amounts to a slow-moving political revolution, and the resort to violence against one of the leading figures in Khatami’s reform faction was an ominous coda to the reformers’ electoral triumph.

Victim Helped Engineer Huge Win

Hajjarian, who is in his late 40s and an exuberant proponent of change through the ballot box, was one of the tactical brains behind the operation that netted reformers a stunning 70% majority in the Feb. 18 vote. The day before, he had cheerfully credited American political journals for teaching him how to build coalitions and put together campaign strategies.

“I read [such] books because we don’t have the experience in Iran,” he said.

In addition to being a City Council member, he is editor of Sobh-e Emrooz, one of the most daring pro-reform newspapers. Because political parties are not well developed in Iran, newspapers such as Hajjarian’s have been the main mechanisms for rallying and organizing political action against the entrenched conservatives.

Shot in the face at close range as he stood on the pavement outside City Council offices in central Tehran, Hajjarian was in critical condition late Sunday, with a bullet lodged in the back of his neck and doctors voicing fear that the wound might have caused him to lose blood supply to the brain. Family members and political allies rushed to his bedside.

Eyewitnesses said the shooting took place at 8:35 a.m. Sunday, a normal workday in Iran. The shooter was one of two men who had been riding outside the offices on a motorcycle described as having a 1,000-cubic-centimeter engine, a size legally restricted to police or security personnel because it has been the getaway vehicle of choice for political assassins in the past. Motorcycles offer a dependable way around Tehran’s perpetually clogged traffic.

According to witnesses, the shots were fired from a distance of less than 10 feet. One bullet ripped through Hajjarian’s left cheek.

“The gunman had aimed his gun at Hajjarian’s temple, but because his hand was shaking the bullet struck him in the face,” Mahmoud Alizadeh-Tabatabaei, a colleague of Hajjarian on the City Council, told the Islamic Republic News Agency, or IRNA.

In response, security forces in Tehran were put on full alert, and the country’s National Security Council held an emergency meeting. According to one source, extra protections were being ordered for reformist figures who might also be targeted.

According to Shirzad Bozorghemr, executive editor of the English-language daily Iran News, a small gathering of reform sympathizers began a spontaneous prayer vigil outside the hospital as news of the shooting spread.

Reports that students at Tehran University planned a protest against the shooting, however, had proved unfounded, he said.

“Everybody is shocked,” Bozorghemr said. Nevertheless, his newspaper had warned presciently in an editorial Sunday that cultural figures in the country need to be protected.

Tried in Absentia and Sentenced to Death

The attack followed what associates said were a number of written threats in recent weeks against Hajjarian’s life. According to one associate’s account, Hajjarian last week had received a hand-delivered cassette tape at his office that informed him that he had been put on trial and sentenced to death.

During the parliamentary election campaign, many reformers aligned with Hajjarian’s Islamic Iran Participation Front had acknowledged that their lives might be in peril because of their struggle for greater political freedoms.

Many referred to the precedent of a series of five political killings in late 1998 that targeted dissidents and intellectuals. In a startling disclosure prompted by an investigation by Khatami’s office, the Information Ministry--the state intelligence agency--finally admitted that the killings were the work of a ring of its own “rogue” officers.

The whole story of the conspiracy still has not unraveled, partly because of the reported prison suicide of the alleged ringleader. But articles in the reformist press have alleged that the killings were but the tip of an iceberg and that elements in the Islamic regime have, over the years, engaged in an ongoing campaign to quietly assassinate scores of domestic opponents.

Hajjarian himself is a former deputy minister of intelligence, a post he held from 1984 until then-newly elected President Hashemi Rafsanjani replaced him with his own choice in 1989. In a political evolution that has been followed by many leftist revolutionaries of his generation, he later moved over to the reformist Khatami’s camp.