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Iran: Chief suspect's suicide will not affect investigation

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Foreigners trying to tarnish Iran's image aided in a string of murders late last year of dissident intellectuals, the military prosecutor said Tuesday.

The case, which shocked the nation because of acknowledged involvement by Iranian intelligence agents, made headlines again when the top suspect reportedly killed himself Saturday in prison.

Military prosecutor Mohammad Niyazi said Tuesday in a Tehran radio interview that Saeed Emami's suicide "will not mean that we have lost all leads."

"We have evidence and confessions that foreign hands were involved in the killings," Niyazi, who heads the investigation into the killings of five dissident writers and intellectuals, told Tehran radio. The broadcast was monitored in Dubai.

"We cannot say more because the investigations are not over. But the aim of the murders was to start infighting among the different political groups in the country and to tarnish the image of the Islamic Republic," Niyazi said.

Iranian officials routinely blame evils on the outside world, particularly the United States and Israel. In this case, however, the government made a startling admission in January that rogue Intelligence Ministry agents were behind the killings.

Niyazi's comments Monday marked the most direct official accusation of foreign involvement.

Three writers and a husband and wife who belonged to a minor opposition party were found dead in November and December, some of them stabbed or strangled. The murders intensified a power struggle between hard-liners and moderates, with the accused agents widely believed to have been loyal to hard-line politicians.

The Intelligence Ministry is controlled by the hard-line faction, which wants to maintain absolute Islamic rule and opposes social reforms led by moderate President Mohammad Khatami.

Several independent Iranian newspapers have questioned Emami's death, asking how a key suspect in such a sensational case could have been allowed to commit suicide. Official Iranian news reports said he swallowed a hair removal substance while taking a bath.

Niyazi warned newspapers not to try and muddy the waters.

"We urge newspapers to exercise prudence," he said. "Otherwise, first we will warn them and then take legal action against them."


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