By William Tucker
Contributor, In Homeland Security
All governments deal with dissent. Some governments choose to deal with dissent violently. The recent murder of Iranian dissident Saeed Karimian, the CEO of Gem TV, may be another such case.
On April 29, Karimian and his business partner, Mohammad Shallahi, were shot and killed on the street of an upscale neighborhood in Istanbul, Turkey. Karimian was shot 27 times, while Shallahi was shot three times.
The number of wounds is rather telling. Karimian was clearly the target of the assassination, but Shallahi was an inconvenient witness.
The Iranian government had just tried Karimian in absentia for spreading propaganda against the regime. He was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison. His company, Gem TV, dubs Western television programming into Farsi and makes it available in Iran, thus undermining attempts by the regime to control the media and making Karimian a problem.
State-Controlled Iranian Media Suggest Karimian’s Assassination Has Financial Causes
The coverage of Karimian’s murder by state-controlled Iranian media is instructive. The Turkish government is investigating the slaying. Turkish officials have suggested that the attack was related to a financial dispute between the deceased and a gang, rather than a political assassination.
Fars News Agency claimed that Gem TV was in financial trouble. Fars also said that the late CEO was embroiled in numerous controversies, such as the sexual harassment of female employees, among other workplace abuses.
Fars, along with Mashregh News Agency, played up alleged links between Karimian and Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK). MEK is responsible for numerous attacks in Iran and was once sheltered by Saddam Hussein in Iraq. MEK is a thorn in the side of the Iranian regime.
Karimian was certainly no friend of the regime, but it’s indicative of how far state media would go to defame a man who was already convicted for propaganda against the state. It appears the Iranian government went to great lengths to justify a murder that it claims to have played no role in orchestrating.
Shortly after Karimian’s death, Turkey and Iran discussed the matter via diplomatic channels. The allegations by FARS and the Turkish police about Gem TV’s financial situation made so quickly after Karimian’s death suggest that both countries may want to bury this event quickly.
Iran Has Allegedly Attempted Assassinations in the Past to Eliminate Enemies
The killing of Saeed Karimian, if it was indeed conducted by Iran, isn’t the first time an enemy of the state has been targeted abroad. In 2012, there were alleged attempts by Israel’s Mossad to assassinate Iran’s nuclear scientists. As a result, four individuals linked to Iran’s nuclear program were killed.
Iran retaliated by targeting Israeli diplomats in India, Georgia, France and Thailand. None of these bombing attacks was successful, but they resulted in several arrests and some property damage.
Iran’s most successful campaign of targeted killings began within one month of the Islamic Republic’s founding in 1979 and didn’t end until the early 1990s. The Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Quds Force carried out the campaign of terror orchestrated by Ayatollah Khomeini. At least 162 Iranians, whether they were monarchist, nationalist or democratic activists, have been murdered in the U.S., Europe and Asia.
What is striking about this earlier campaign is the similarity in the modus operandi used in the Karimian murder. Many of those earlier victims who were unfortunate enough to find themselves in Iran’s crosshairs were gunned down in their homes or on the street. In most cases, the victims were shot or stabbed multiple times, just as Karimian was shot nearly 30 times on a public street.
Will Iran Continue These Political Assassinations?
Though this assassination took the lives of two private individuals, there is no current evidence that any other murders have been carried out in a similar fashion recently. However, this assassination is still noteworthy because Iran maintains a capable intelligence apparatus that can target its enemies, despite numerous failed attempts in the past.
By returning to a method that worked so well in the past, Iran might be rethinking its approach to targeted killings. With this success, albeit a small one against a soft target, Iran bears watching. Iran could become bolder and try to eliminate more of its enemies abroad in a similar fashion.