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Moderate Iranian press puzzles over suicide of murders' mastermind

TEHRAN, June 21 (AFP) - The mastermind of last year's murders of Iranian dissidents was identified as a former intelligence official on Monday as the moderate press here raised a number of questions about his suicide.

Saeed Emami, also known as Saaed Eslami, committed suicide by swallowing "vajebi," a highly toxic powder mostly used for hair-removal in Iran, while in the public bath of a prison in the capital on Saturday.

Salam newspaper, which is close to the government, said that Emami, who was studying at a US university at the time of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, was an assistant to former intelligence minister Ali Fallahian charged with security affairs.

"President (Mohammad) Khatami called for his resignation, but he didn't step down," the paper said, adding that Emami, in a meeting with senior Friday prayer leaders, had termed the May 1997 election of the reformist Khatami "a threat to national security."

Sobh-e-Emruz, a moderate paper directed by Saeed Hajarian, a former deputy at the intelligence ministry, said that the suicide of Emami in prison had raised "questions among the public."

"How can we close our eyes to the suicide of the key figure behind last years chain of murders?" asked another moderate paper, Khordad.

Khordad, which is close to Khatami, said the death of the man described as the "main agent" behind last year's murders of dissidents and intellectuals was an "extremely complex affair," and asked why the authorities "weren't able to prevent the suicide."

Moderate and reformist papers expressed puzzlement on Monday over how he could kill himself despite strict police surveillance.

Military prosecutor Mohammad Niazi said Sunday that 27 people had been arrested in connection with the case and for the first time revealed the identities of four of them, described as the "main agents": Mustafa Kazemi, Mehrdad Alikhani, Khosro Barati and Emami.

According to Niazi, Emami "would have been sentenced to death if he had stood trial with regard to the charges."

The brutal murders, which shocked the public and rocked the government, were apparently designed "to create problems for the government on the international and local scenes," the military prosecutor said.

Three of those arrested were reportedly former officials in the intelligence ministry, but the authorities have stressed that they were acting "without orders from their superiors."

Nationalist dissident Dariush Foruhar and his wife, Parvaneh, were killed in their Tehran home in November of last year. Their murders were followed by those of three liberal writers agitating for greater freedom of expression -- Mohammad Mokhtari, Mohammad Pouyandeh and Majid Sharif.

The government's previous admission that the murders had been committed by "rogue" intelligence agents, led to the resignation in February of conservative Intelligence Minister Qorbanali Dorri-Najafabadi, who was replaced by another cleric Ali Yunesi.

Following the murders, Khatami set up a special commission of inquiry to investigate the killings and Niazi vowed he would try the case in public.

Conservative opponents of the Khatami government have said the murders were the work of forces outside the country while reformers have accused Islamic hardliners allied to the conservatives of being responsible.


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