Top Iranian Reformer Shot And Wounded
By Jonathan Lyons
March 12, TEHRAN (Reuters) - Saeed Hajjarian, an architect of Iran's
reform movement, was shot and seriously wounded on Sunday by attackers
who fled on a motorcycle, witnesses said.
They said Hajjarian, a former deputy intelligence minister and a close
aide to President Mohammad Khatami, had been hit in the face from a distance
of less than three meters (yards).
``The gunman had aimed his gun at Hajjarian's temple but because his
hand was shaking the (first) bullet struck him in the face,'' Mahmoud Alizadeh-Tabatabaei,
a colleague of Hajjarian on Tehran city council, told the state news agency
IRNA said Hajjarian, also a pro-reform newspaper editor, was in the
intensive care unit at a nearby hospital suffering from a swelling of the
brain and respiratory problems.
President Condemns Shooting
President Khatami condemned the shooting and ordered authorities to
hunt the unknown gunmen. ``The enemies of freedom wrongly believe they
can attain their goals by assassinating a pious intellectual who was serving
the nation,'' he said.
A presidential adviser said security forces had been put on full alert
State media said Hajjarian had emerged from a coma and was able to
breath without the aid of a ventilator.
But a doctor treating Hajjarian told state radio: ``Because his breathing
was disrupted from the shooting to the arrival at the hospital, the brain
has suffered some ischaemia (reduced blood supply) and therefore he remains
in a coma.''
Doctors said earlier a brain scan showed no direct damage to the brain
or spinal cord.
``One bullet entered through his left cheek and remains lodged at the
back of his neck,'' said Mohammad Reza Zafarqandi, head of the emergency
Iran's top security body, the Supreme National Security Council, was
to meet to discuss the incident. A special operations center was set up
to monitor events.
It was not clear whether the president, who chairs the council, would
cut short a trip to his native Yazd province to attend the meeting.
Attack Followed Written Threats
The attack followed what associates said were a number of written threats
in recent weeks on Hajjarian's life by hard-liners, some of whom have been
linked to the serial murders of dissident intellectuals.
``He was threatened by many people, including those who killed the intellectuals,''
said one colleague.
Reformers rallied around the stricken Hajjarian, with a delegation of
newly-elected members of parliament and President Khatami's chief of staff
rushing to his bedside.
``I think this marks an unhappy start for the new phase of political
life in Iran. I am worried for the future,'' said economist and pro-reform
editor Saeed Leylaz.
Witnesses told Reuters the two assailants had been cruising nearby
on a 1000 cc motorcycle. This size of machine, once popular as getaway
vehicles in political killings, is outlawed in Iran except for use by police
and security personnel.
That has fed fears among reformers that the attempt on Hajjarian could
be linked to Iran's intense factional struggle, pitting moderates against
the conservative establishment.
Mehdi Qasemi, a university student who was outside the city council
building at the time, said the gunman on the back of the motorbike fired
twice from no more than three meters (yards).
Other witnesses said the gunman, wearing a helmet, had approached Hajjarian
and shot him with a Colt revolver.
IRNA said the attack had taken place at 8.35 a.m. (0505 GMT) in central
Tehran. It said witnesses had provided the police with descriptions of
the attackers and their motorcycle.
People at the scene of the shooting said the city council's armed police
apparently made no attempt to chase the gunmen. That is sure to feed reformers'
suspicions over the incident.
Hajjarian was one of the masterminds of the reformists' big victory
in last month's parliamentary polls, and there was widespread speculation
that he would soon step down as editor of the Sobh-e Emrouz daily to begin
full-time political work.
His newspaper has been in the forefront of the pro-reform movement,
aggressively exposing what it says is a hard-line circle within the Intelligence
Ministry involved in the murders of dissidents dating back many years.