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128. Telegram From the Embassy in Iran to the Department of State1

4788. Subj: Assassination of Two ARMISH/MAAG Officers. Ref: Tehran 4768.2

1. Our preliminary analysis of Shaffer and Turner assassinations is that this was an isolated act designed to achieve maximum embarrassment for regime on day Shah returns from heavily and favorably publicized trip to the United States.3 Assassinations were also clearly planned to coincide with anniversaries of attacks on General Price and LTC Hawkins.4 We are taking precautions. An anonymous female caller to the Embassy three hours after the assassinations described murders in Farsi as first of nine persons among high ranking American officials who are to be killed “as a punishment for the Americans.” Telephone caller attributed murders to Mohjaheddin-e-Khalq (“People’s Strugglers”), a fanatical Moslem group which has been linked to several assasinations during the past year in association frequently with the Cherikha-ye-Fedai-ye-Khalq (“People’s Sacrifice Guerrillas”), Marxist group.

2. Since May 4 two military officers assigned to MLG detachment have been under surveillance by unknown persons. Surveillance developed a fixed pattern in that officers were regularly followed in the evening, never in the morning. A counter check was established which confirmed the surveillance pattern. On day before Shaffer and Turner murders, the pattern was broken, i.e., there was no indication of surveillance. We presume that surveillance of two MLG officers was [Page 391]linked to assassinations, possibly as a move to decoy us or as alternate targets.

3. After drafting reftel we learned that booby-trapped briefcase was left in victims’ car. It was exploded by police bomb squad.

4. We have unconfirmed report that SAVAK informer was also assassinated at 06:00 in same general area as Shaffer/Turner attack.

5. Assassinations were obviously work of professional murderers and bear close similarity to earlier attacks on Iranian officials. It is plain that terrorist groups are acquiring a greater capacity to execute attacks on designated targets. We do not believe this indicates any change in public sentiments towards American military assistance to Iran or Americans in general.

6. Following message just received by Consular Officer from second caller who said, in broken English: “The killing of two Americans—this was work of Movement Mojaheddin of Iran. This is for the felons killed in prison. Shah shot nine persons in prison. Shah is criminal.” Press announced April 20 that nine terrorists in escape attempt were shot by Gendarmerie troops. (Ref Tehran 4408 (Notal)).5

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D750178–0251. Confidential; Niact; Immediate. Repeated Niact Immediate to SecDef, USCINCEUR, JCS, Department of the Army, USAF, and CNO.
  2. Telegram 4768 from Tehran, May 21, reported that two ARMISH/MAAG officers, Paul R. Shaffer, Jr. and Jack H. Turner, had been assassinated by anti-regime terrorists who rammed their car from behind and then shot them. (Ibid., D750177–1084)
  3. According to telegram 4811 from Tehran, May 22, the Shah was visibly upset at his welcome home ceremony on May 21. Offering condolences to Miklos, the Shah remarked: “Perhaps people in your country will now realize what terrorists are and not call them intellectuals. Sometimes they kill us and sometimes they kill you. We must fight them.” (Ibid., D750179–0859) DIA Special Defense Intelligence Notice 1217–75, May 21, concluded that terrorists were trying to attract adherents by attacking Americans, who were blamed by most Iranians for perpetuating the Shah’s rule, and by leftists and intellectuals for encouraging arms expenditures that detracted from Iran’s modernization. Radical religious conservatives, meanwhile, resented the growing U.S. population in Iran. (Washington National Records Center, OASD Files: FRC 330–78–0058, Box 65, Iran 000.1–299)
  4. See Document 18.
  5. Telegram 4408 from Tehran, May 12, reported that nine alleged terrorists were killed in mid-April while trying to escape during transfer from one prison to another. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D750167–0526) Telegrams 7463 and 7734 from Tehran, August 1 and 11, announced the capture of the suspected Turner and Shaffer assassins. Telegrams 53, 617 and 738, January 4, 21, and 25, 1976, reported that the terrorists had been tried and, in most cases, executed. (All ibid., D760002–0253, D760024–0453, D760028–1026)