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

8696. Sub: Americans Assassinated.

1. At 0650 August 28 terrorists killed American citizens Donald Smith, Robert Krongard and William Cottrell, three Rockwell International employees working on an electronics research project for the IIAF2 who were on their way to Doshan Tappeh Air Base. Iranian driver was wounded and is now being interrogated by SAVAK.

2. Attack took place on a side street near Vosough Square in the Tehran Now area of Tehran. Attackers blocked Rockwell Dodge sedan with a Volkswagen sedan in front and a minibus in the rear. According to eyewitness, four (4) men approached on foot and fired at occupants in blocked car. Cottrell managed to get out of car but was killed in process. Shell casings indicate one or two M 63S, a 9 MM automatic and a 45 automatic pistol were used. Casings in the car indicate attackers reached within the car to fire. All were killed.

3. It not known whether Americans had papers connected with project they were working on but no briefcases or other documents were found in the car following the assassination. SAVAK speculates that assassins were part of Mujahidin-e-Khalq terrorist group because of the modus operandi and weapons used. This is the anniversary of the arrest of Rahman Vahid Afrakhteh, an operation officer of the Mujahidin-e-Khalq who planned Colonels Shaffer and Turner assassination.3

4. This is the first terrorist attack on an American since the assassination of Colonels Shaffer and Turner May 21, 1975. This is also the first assassination of a non-official American.4

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5. Minister of Court Alam has just called Ambassador to express Shah’s “deepest regrets.”5 Further details re notification next of kin, passport numbers, etc, will follow.6

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D760328–1099. Confidential; Niact; Immediate.
  2. The Washington Post reported in an August 30 article that Rockwell was under contract to install Project IBEX, an electronic surveillance system, for the IIAF. See Document 200.
  3. See Document 128.
  4. The CIA informed the White House on August 28 that the Mujahidin-e-Khalq “laid low” following the capture of some of their members, but was entering a new phase of activity. It concluded that the high security measures adopted by the official U.S. community in Iran had forced the Mujahidin to target the more accessible U.S. business community, which now totaled 18,000. (Ford Library, National Security Adviser, NSC Middle East and South Asian Affairs Staff, Box 5, Country File, Iran (12) 8/13/76–9/13/76)
  5. The Shah’s assessment of the murders, transmitted in telegram 8712 from Tehran, August 29, was that they were part of a Communist plot to drive Iran and the United States apart and counter the Iranian defense build-up. The Embassy commented: “Whether or not the Shah’s analysis in this case is accurate or overdrawn, there would seem to be no doubt that the Soviets are concentrating a campaign at all levels” toward these two goals. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D760366–1625) Telegram 8729 from Tehran, August 29, forwarded a summary of significant terrorist activity during the previous 2 years. Helms suggested in telegram 8776 from Tehran, August 31, that Atherton draw upon the summary for his testimony before the Fraser committee. (Both ibid., D760366–1651 and D760329–1408)
  6. Telegram 9129 from Tehran, September 9, informed the Department that a member of the assassination team had been captured. (Ibid., D760341–0454)