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

5025. Subj: Ayatollah’s April 7 Murder in Isfahan. Ref: Tehran 4128 and 3618.2

1. Local press announced May 16 arrest of four men who had confessed to killing Ayatollah Shamsabadi (see reftels) for extremist religious reasons. Both English and Farsi press played up confession by three of accused (Hasemi did not appear) at press conference May 15. Three claimed they were adherents of exiled clergyman Mohammad [Ruhollah] Khomeyni and drew on anti-Shi’ite writings, principally the book The Eternal Martyr for their ideology.

2. Accused are Mohammad Hossein Jaafarzadeh, geology student; Assadollah Sharfizadeh, kerosene retailer; Mohammad Esmail Ebrahimi, auto repairman; and theology student Seyed Mehdi Hashemi. Shafizadeh and Jaafarzadeh said they committed actual crime, with Hashemi as originator of plan and Ebrahimi as accomplice. None have previous records of radical activity. Shafizadeh and Jaffarzadeh said they consipired to kill Shamsabadi to jolt clergy out of their complacency and make them do something for the nation. Pair held view that clergy collected religious endowments and spent funds on their own high living while ignoring their duty to the public. Shafizadeh said assassination of a few religious leaders would make clergy revise their ways in the public interest.

3. AmConsul Isfahan reports bazaar there largely closed May 15 with mourning flags and black banners much in evidence. Unusual feature of mourning was presence of several lighted mourning stands (hejleh) which normally used only for young person killed before reaching prime of life. This may have been extraordinary way of showing popularity of Ayatollah.

4. [less than 1 line not declassified] in Isfahan paint entirely different picture of motivation surrounding killing. Isfahani layman close to local religious leaders says Shamsabadi was supporter of Khomeyni and vocal critic of government. Ayatollah was also in charge of collection and delivery of funds from local religious community to support Khomeyni. Actual collection was done by Shamsabadi’s personal secretary, who disappeared just prior Iranian New Year holidays (March [Page 528]21) and has not been seen. He is believed to have been arrested by SAVAK for his role in fund handling.

5. Press coverage of killing has portrayed Shamsabadi as popular government supporter who has spoken out against book Eternal Martyr, which is anti-Shi’ite. [less than 1 line not declassified] said this is false and that Shamsabadi was devoted to Khomeyni and agreed with him in his support of the book’s viewpoint.

6. Comment: It seems unlikely that Shamsabadi would have been selected as target by people concerned about clergy’s high living when he was one of Isfahan’s most popular clerics. Whichever version of killing, or mix of stories, is true, fact is that GOI has had difficulties handling case. Some Iranians still believe the GOI itself had Shamsabadi killed because of his ties to Khomeyni. We expect GOI will now make major effort to sweep whole case under the rug.

Helms
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D760191–1204. Secret; Noforn. Repeated to Baghdad.
  2. See Document 174 and footnote 2 thereto.