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

4128. Subj: Popular Ayatollah’s April 7 Murder in Isfahan. Ref: Tehran 3618.2

1. [Garble—Event?] described in reftel continues to simmer. [less than 1 line not declassified] increasing number of people in Isfahan believe SAVAK itself may have killed Shamsabadi (corrected spelling). Correspondents from a Tehran newspaper, themselves Mullahs, reported from Isfahan that robbery clearly not motive, as 100,000 rials found on Shamsabadi’s body. More ominous is fact Ayatollah had been regarded as leader of religious opposition to recent change of Persian calendar from Moslem religious to Persian dynastic base and had delivered very strong speech against new calendar day before his murder.

2. Fears of SAVAK involvement in killing have led several potential witnesses to withhold information from police investigators [less than 1 line not declassified]. Some Isfahanis believe killing was work of overzealous SAVAK subordinates and that Shah and SAVAK leaders not involved. Suspicions of official complicity heightened by initial version of police report which said death due to auto accident.3

3. [less than 1 line not declassified] group of religious leaders met with Ministry of Interior in Tehran April 13 to urge official day of mourning be proclaimed. Ministry of Information ordered news of this meeting kept out of media and on April 14 ordered end to front-page coverage of killing by local press and prohibited foreign language papers from any coverage. On April 18 [less than 1 line not declassified] what appeared to be a government-placed counter-rumor appeared in a “SAVAK-controlled press channel” that Shamsabadi had resisted a more modernistic interpretation of Islam at a seminar one week before his death. Young Mullahs then allegedly brought about his death because he represented an obstacle to modernizing Shi’ite doctrine.

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4. Shah reportedly upset by blame being levied on SAVAK and has ordered complete inquiry into murder, adding that killers, when caught, will receive strongest possible sentence.

5. AmConsul Isfahan reports continued uneasiness in city. Shops closed for traditional one week mourning period and many of these, especially in northern part of city where Shamsabadi lived, failed to reopen until two–three days after mourning period. [less than 1 line not declassified] senior SAVAK officials believe terrorists may have engineered killing to throw suspicion on SAVAK and create just this sort of unrest in Isfahan. To date, SAVAK has been unable to link killing to terrorists.

Helms
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D760157–0343. Secret; Noforn.
  2. In telegram 3618 from Tehran, April 11, the Embassy reported that a popular Muslim religious leader of Isfahan, Ayatollah Seyed Mohsen Shamsabadi, was murdered, and his funeral procession was attended by over 50,000 people. The Embassy noted that the Iranian security forces hypothesized that a terrorist group was responsible, but added that Mujahidin-e-Khalq, which claimed to protect Islam against the corrupting values of the Shah and the West, was not likely the culprit. (Ibid., Central Foreign Policy Files, D760138–0058)
  3. According to telegram 3618, Shamsabadi was forced into a car and choked to death.