Religion meets politics in Khatami death plan
Tehran (Reuter) - The recent uncovering of a plan to assassinate moderate
Iranian President Mohammed Khatami has opened a rare window on the murky
world where religion and political violence intersect in the Islamic Republic.
News of the plan was made public earlier this week when a prominent
conservative politician said a member of the elite Revolutionary Guards
unit assigned to protect the president had planned to kill Khatami.
Ahmad Tavakoli, a former presidential candidate and newspaper publisher,
told students in Tehran the plan suggested future threats could not be
He gave no other details.
But interviews with members of the circle near the president, as well
as with clerics in the holy city of Qom, reveal an affair caught up in
the nexus of politics and religion.
These sources said the would-be assassin - a member of the so-called
"second line" of the presidential bodyguard, outside the inner
protective ring - travelled to Qom, two hours from Tehran, to seek religious
sanction from senior clerics for his plan.
He first approached Ayatollah Hossein Nouri-Hamadani about six weeks
ago, but the cleric refused to endorse the attempt or to issue a decree,
or fatwa, giving it religious approval.
Armed with such a fatwa, say experts, the attacker would have had immunity
under religious law to carry out the assassination.
But Nouri-Hamadani turned the man away and sent him to another senior
cleric, Ayatollah Mohammad Fazel-Lankarani.
Both Nouri-Hamadani and Lankarani have been designated by the supreme
leader as among Iran's most senior theologians, and both are conservatives
opposed to Khatami's cultural and political liberalisation.
"He went to Nouri and Nouri sent him off to Fazel," one well-connected
cleric and teacher said by telephone from Qom.
"Fazel's son contacted Khatami's office immediately...and he informed
them of the case," said the cleric, adding the ayatollah's son had
incurred the anger of Iran's hardliners for turning in the suspect.
The unnamed bodyguard was later picked up by the intelligence service
of the Revolutionary Guards. His fate is unknown.
The president's office declined comment on the case, which has focused
renewed attention on the potential vulnerability of President Khatami.
It also recalls earlier instances of political violence carried out with
apparent religious sanction.
In March, a gunman seriously wounded a senior Khatami ally, shooting
him once in the head at close range before escaping on the back of a high-powered
Authorities rounded up about a dozen suspects shortly after the shooting,
most from the poor district of Shahr-e-Rey, in the south of Tehran.
Five were later convicted and sentenced to between three and 15 years
in jail. Friends and acquaintances said among their number was the son
of a prayer leader, but the connection was never officially acknowledged.
These same friends said the group, a circle of religious militants,
relied on sanction from hardline clerics before carrying out a series of
armed attacks in and around their district against anyone deemed insufficiently
A string of mystery murders in 1998 of secular dissidents was also initially
said to have been approved by hardline clerics, but the case has stalled
amid intense political factionalism. The clerics involved were never identified.
Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, the leading theoretician of the
right, last year outraged reformers backing the president with his call
to arms against their modernist interpretation of the faith that includes
"tolerance" of diverse views.
"If anyone says he has own interpretation of religion, sock him
in the mouth," Mesbah-Yazdi once said, laying down a marker for the