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Timeline: Iran’s assassinations and plots to kill dissidents living abroad

Published: Updated:

The recent plot to kidnap Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad has reopened the case of Iran’s targeting of opposition members and dissidents living abroad.

Alinejad said on Wednesday that she was shocked by an Iranian plot to kidnap her from her New York home, as Tehran stiffly denied the allegations contained in a US Justice Department indictment.

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The White House strongly condemned the plot, which came to light late Tuesday when the Justice Department unveiled charges against four Iranian intelligence agents, who had allegedly planned to seize the dissident journalist and smuggle her to Iran.

Here’s a timeline of Iran’s history of targeting and assassinating dissidents abroad:

December 7, 1979: Months after Ruhollah Khomeini founded the Islamic Republic of Iran following a revolution, an assassin shot and killed the former Shah’s nephew Shahriar Shafiq outside his home in Paris.

July 13, 1989: Iranian officials shot and killed the leader of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran, Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou. The Iranian Kurdish leader was killed by three bullets fired at very close range along with his party comrade Abdullah Ghaderi Azar and Fadhil Rassoul, an Iraqi professor who was the mediator.

April 24, 1990: Kazem Rajavi, a prominent Iranian academic and opposition figure, was shot dead in his car in the village of Coppet, near Geneva, on April 24, 1990. Rajavi, was the spokesperson for the Mojahedin e-Khaleq (MEK) exiled group at the time before joining the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). A Swiss judge in 2006 issued an arrest warrant for Ali Fallahian, Iran’s intelligence minister from 1989 to 1997, in connection to the assassination of Rajavi.

August 6, 1991: Iranian intelligence agents assassinated former Iranian Prime Minister Shapour Bakhtiar at his home near Paris. Bakhtiar was an opponent of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, but was promoted to be prime minister in a last desperate attempt by the then Iranian leader to save his monarchy. Bakhtiar’s liberal Westernism did not go down well and he resigned after just five weeks in office. He fled the country after the 1979 Iranian revolution and lived in exile in Paris until his murder.

July 24, 1992: The UK Foreign Office in 1992 ordered three Iranians to leave the country amid allegations they were connected in a plot to assassinate Indian-born British American novelist and essayist Salman Rushdie. Three years earlier in 1989, then-Supreme Leader Khomeini issued a fatwa, or religious edict, that called on Muslims to the kill Rusdhie after his book “The Satanic Verses” was condemned as blasphemous.

August 8, 1992: Fereydoun Farrokhzad, a celebrated singer and artist living in Germany was found beaten to death in his apartment in the German city of Bonn. Prior to his death, Farrokhzad was involved in producing an opposition radio program and was critical of the Iranian Revolution and the regime.

September 17, 1992: “The Mykonos Restaurant Murders” became the sight of the gruesome assassination of three Iranian-Kurdish leaders allegedly conducted by Iranian agents. According to Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad, officials of Iran lured members of Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), under the pretext of negotiations who then fired indiscriminately, killing the dissidents.

February 20, 1996: Zahra Rajabi, a senior member of the MEK stationed in Turkey was shot to death in her Istanbul apartment alongside one of her bodyguards.

December 15, 2015: Mohammad Reza Kolahi Samadi, a member of the MEK, was assassinated via a shot in the head in front of his house in Almere, the Netherlands. Kolahi Samadi had entered the country as a refugee under the false identity of Ali Motamed. Iran had sentenced Samadi to death in absentia for his connection to the 1981 bombing of the Islamic Republican Party’s headquarters in Tehran, which killed dozens of Iranian officials.

November 8, 2017: Ahmad Mola Nissi, founder of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz (ASMLA) opposition group, was shot outside of his house in The Hague. Dutch intelligence accused Iran of hiring a middleman to carry out the assassination and linked him to the killing and Kolahi Samadi in 2015.

June 30, 2018: A rally of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) attended by high-profile former US, European and Arab officials was the target of a bomb plot. Belgian prosecutors charged Vienna-based Iranian diplomat Assadolah Assadi in October 2018 and three others with planning the attack.

October 14, 2019: France-based Iranian dissident journalist Ruhollah Zam was captured and taken to Iran after being lured to Iraq. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said at the time they had “trapped” Zam in a “complex operation using intelligence deception.” Iran executed Zam in December 2020.

November 14, 2019: Iranian dissident Masoud Molavi Vardanjani was shot dead while walking on a street in Istanbul. Turkish officials officially accused two intelligence officers at Iran's consulate in Turkey of instigating the killing.

August 2020: Iran said it captured US-based opposition figure Jamshid Sharmahd. Details of his detention and subsequent travel to Iran, where he is currently held in prison, remain a mystery.

November 2020: Iranian media report the arrest of Sweden-based Iranian Arab opposition figure Habib Chaab, also known as Habib Eseywed. Chaab, who comes from Iran’s Ahwazi Arab ethnic minority group, is believed to have been kidnapped by Iranian intelligence agents in Turkey and taken to Iran from there.