Murder in Dubai, a prelude to war?
The 35-year-old son of the former commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, Gen. Mohsen Rezai, was found dead in a luxury suites hotel in Dubai on Sunday, a death his family deemed “suspicious.”
Ahmad Rezai had gone to Dubai on September 8 to visit his family, who maintain a residence in Dubai. He has been unable to travel to Iran since he was released from house arrest by the regime on May 1, 2008.
According to the Tehran Times, the younger Rezai “died after receiving an electric shock.” An opposition Iranian source told me he was followed back from Tehran by two members of the Quds Force who may have carried out the hit.
The younger Rezai’s murder was discovered just hours after a series of explosions rocked the main depot for the Revolutionary Guards stockpile of Shahab-3 missiles in the southwestern suburbs of Tehran, killing one of Iran’s top missile experts, Brig. Gen. Hassan Moghadam.
It’s unclear if the two events are related, as many bloggers have been suggesting. However, Gen. Mohsen Rezai commands a substantial following within the IRGC even today, fourteen years after he was replaced as IRGC commander. The murder of his son by another faction of regime thugs will surely have repercussions inside Iran.
To me, this feels like the murder of Ahmad Shah Massood in Afghanistan on Sept 9, 2001. I can still remember hearing of Masood’s murder and thinking at the time: this is the beginning of something really bad.
By the very fact that he lived in the United States and had U.S. citizenship, Ahmad Rezai gave his father an “American connection” the regime jinned up into a massive conspiracy. The fact that they couldn’t prove any of their allegations against him, despite many years of efforts, only convinced them further that father and son constituted a threat to the regime.
Combine this murder with the missile base explosion, the latest IAEA report that reveals ongoing nuclear warhead work – despite the CIA’s 2007 National Intelligence Estimate to the contrary – and the intense factional warfare inside the regime that is pitting Ahmadinejad against Khamenei and splitting the IRGC into multiple, mutually-hostile factions – and you’ve laid the table for a dramatic series of events. Something bad is going to happen. And the target is likely to be Israel.
Gen. Rezai has twice run for president, both times against Ahmadinejad. After the stolen election of June 2009, he joined the other failed candidates, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karrubi, in calling for a full investigation of election fraud.
But as street protests in Tehran and elsewhere intensified, Rezai caved into pressure from Ayatollah Khamenei – including threats to his family – and retreated to Mashad for several months where he lectured at the local university. (He holds a PhD in economics.)
Khamenei also threatened the family of Rezai’s boss at the Expediency Council, former president Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani.
Rafsanjani’s daughter, Faezeh Hashemi, was arrested after the election on allegations of failing to pay import duties on large quantities of green “mantos” – the head to toe covering, usually in black, that Iranian women are forced to wear in public – she was planning to distribute thanks to grants from NGOs with ties to George Soros and his Open Society Institute.
Rafsanjani’s son, Mehdi Hashemi, was planning to return to Iran from London after the election, but was ultimately warned away from returning by Ahmad Rezai, who learned that the regime had issued an arrest warrant for Hashemi and fully intended to carry it out if he came to Tehran.
Ahmad Rezai has been in the gunsights of the regime ever since he defected to the United States in 1997 at the age of 22.
I first interviewed him in Los Angeles the following year, when he blasted the regime for carrying out terrorist attacks, including the Khobar Towers bombing.
"Three persons sign off on every order to commit a foreign terrorist action: Ayatollah Khamene'i, Rafsanjani, and Khamene'i's chief of staff, Hojjat-ol eslam Mohammadi-Golpayegani," he told me in that interview.
In 1999, his father dispatched two people to lure Ahmad away from Los Angeles, where he had obtained political asylum, to the estate of a wealthy Iranian businessman in Costa Rica, on the pretext that Iranian agents in Los Angeles were trying to kill him.
Gen. Rezai was trying to get Ahmad to return to Iran, where he thought he could get the regime to “forgive” his outspoken radio and television interviews. At the time, President Khatami was leading a reformist movement that included a loosening up of the regime’s intelligence apparatus. Gen. Rezai was working with Khatami at the time.
In the end, the younger Rezai managed to return to the United States from Costa Rica, with help from the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, which I founded in 1995. He learned English in my basement by watching Jackie Chan movies for three months while getting resettled into the United States.
He eventually moved to Los Angeles but shunned the Iranian exile community, which distrusted him because of his family background. For several years he worked at ordinary jobs. He got married, had a child, and tried to lead a normal life. In 2004, he became a U.S. citizen.
But Iran was always close to his heart.
Even as a 16-year-old, Ahmad Rezai rebelled against the repression of the regime his own father represented. As a young “inspector” within the Bassij corp, he would visit jails around the country, and quietly work to get political prisoners released.
On January 28, 2007, after reconciling with his father, Ahmad returned to Iran with his South Korean wife and their three-year-old daughter, with the understanding that his past “sins” would be forgiven and he could help his father build a political base after his first failed run for president in 2005.
But as soon as they arrived at the Tehran airport, regime agents confiscated his passports and accused him of being a U.S. spy. His wife and child were allowed to leave after ten days, but the younger Rezai was subjected to fourteen months of hell.
Regime intelligence agents interned him in a Tehran hospital to conduct extensive body scans looking for a “CIA chip,” and ultimately subjected him to several rounds of brutal electro-shocks, hoping to break his will. These sessions were video-taped by his father’s security guards, to make sure the regime doctors didn’t kill him outright.
An intelligence officer named Akbar Baghari accompanied the entire Rezai family on the Haj to Mecca in March 2007. He insisted that Ahmad marry a Muslim woman, and began presenting young women to him as potential brides. “I told these young women, ‘I am already married. This is who I am, I am not going to be your husband. I am under pressure,’” Ahmad told me later.
Baghari made clear that if he refused to take an Iranian Muslim wife, he would be jailed or killed, so in May 2007 the younger Rezai agreed to a white marriage with the daughter of an IRGC general, all the while he kept trying to get his passport back so he could leave Iran to rejoin his wife and child back in California.
Ultimately, Gen. Rezai wrote a report detailing the torture Ahmad had been subjected to and threatened to circulate it throughout the IRGC officer corps if the regime did not agree to allow his son to leave the country, and so on May 2, 2008, he was finally allowed to leave Iran to return to the United States.
When his father declared his candidacy for president in early 2009, Ahmad again sought to return to Iran, thinking to assist his campaign.
After a failed effort in February 2009, he flew to Tehran from Dubai in April 2009 where armed intelligence agents were waiting to arrest him on the other side of the immigration line. Ahmad called his father, who dispatched armed guards to the airport, where they engaged in a Mexican stand-off with the MOIS goons until Ahmad abandoned his attempt to enter Iran and got on the next flight back to Dubai.
As Ahmad said in his initial interview with me in 1998, he represents 30 million young Iranians who are fed up with the violence and repression of this regime. That is why he was so dangerous then, and why he continued to be considered a threat to the regime today.
The regime was all the more determined to crush him after he reconciled with his father and joined his effort to reform the regime from within, an effort that is rejected by many Iranian opposition activists who believe that reform is impossible.
For those who think the Iranian regime is a government like any other, contemplate this: On the eve of a planned trip to Washington, DC in April 2010, where he was scheduled to brief Congressional staff on political developments inside Iran, Ahmad was brutally attacked and beaten almost to death by Armenian gang members while playing pick-up basketball at a 24-hour gym in Glendale, CA.
Although the police treated it as gang-related activity, his father phoned him from Tehran and warned him to stay away from public places, convinced that the attack on his son was the work of regime agents.
Many questions remain surrounding Ahmad’s death.
- Who were the two Quds force goons who apparently shadowed him back from Tehran?
- When exactly was he murdered, and how? Some sources say he was drugged and suffocated three days before he was found; others say he was electrocuted.
- What was he doing in the Gloria Hotel to begin with, when his family maintained a residence in Dubai where he normally stayed when visiting there?
- What action has the U.S. government taken to ensure that the murder of an American citizen is properly investigated by the Dubai authorities?
Ahmad’s widow asked me what she should say to their seven-year old daughter. Here is what I told her: “Tell her that her dad was a hero, and that he was killed because he wanted people in Iran to enjoy the same freedoms that you enjoy here in America.”
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