Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

Omid, a memorial in defense of human rights in Iran
One Person’s Story

Shapur Bakhtiar


Age: 76
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Islam (Shi'a)
Civil Status: Married


Date of Killing: August 6, 1991
Location of Killing: No.37, Rue Cluseret, Suresne, France
Mode of Killing: Stabbing
Charges: Plotting to overthrow the Islamic Republic; Treason

About this Case

Born in a tribe in Lorestan, home to one of Iran’s oldest tribes, he was loyal, strong headed, and courageous. But, he was also humble: “I am first a human being, then an Iranian, and then a Muslim.” 

Information regarding the life and death of Mr. Shapur (also spelled Chapur) Bakhtiar was taken from the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights (ABC) Interview with a friend of Sorush Katibeh in France (March 29, 2022) and Frank Garbely, director of Witness C documentary, 6 July 2023) , Radio Farda interview with Ladan Boroumand (August 7, 2011), 2010 interview of VOA television with France Bakhtiar Rafi’ii, United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law in Rafi’ii vs. Islamic Republic of Iran (December 2, 2002), National Movement of the Iranian Resistance, a brochure published by NAMIR-UK (1985), ABC interview with source with knowledge of Mohammad Azadi (June 16 and August 24, 2022 and July 2, 2023), ABC interview with Ladan Boroumand, Warrant for the arrest of Mojtaba Mashhadi issued by the Appellate Court of Paris, Second Criminal Panel of the Court (February 11, 2000), Jomhuri Islami newspaper (September 18, 1991), “Extracts from the instruction relative to the double assassination of Chapour Bakhtiar and Sorouch Katibeh,” prepared by Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière, archived by Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, Verdict of Judge Henry H. Kennedy in Bakhtiar v. Islamic Republic of Iran, United States District Court of the District of Columbia (June 17, 2008), Confidential Biographic Data on Bakhtiar prepared by US State Department Economic Officer (November 10, 1952), Shapur Bakhtiar’s Memoirs: “Ma Fidelite,” Albin Michel (1982), and Islamic Revolution Documents Center (June 2, 2020).*

Shapur (Chapour) Bakhtiar, father of five, was born on June 26, 1914 in a mountainous area in Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari Province to an influential family of the Bakhtiari tribe. He was sent to Shahr-e Kord to attend primary school and attended high school in Esfahan and Beirut. He completed his education in France, with an interruption of two years following the execution of his father in Iran, and  in 1939 obtained his BA in law, philosophy, and political science while studying simultaneously in three universities. His studies were interrupted by World War II during which he joined the French army in 1940 and then the resistance to German occupiers. He did doctoral studies in law and political science and obtained a PhD in law in 1945 and returned to Iran in January 1946 (Shapur Bakhtiar’s Memoirs: “Ma Fidelite,” Albin Michel 1982). During his stay in France, he married his first wife, a French citizen, and had his first two children. He and his first wife, with whom he had two other children, divorced in the 1950s and his wife left for France. Mr. Bakhtiar raised the children with the help of his older daughter; a task made difficult by his multiple imprisonments. In the 1980s, while in France, Mr. Bakhtiar married again and had another child, who was five at the time of his death. His daughter France remembers him as a cheerful, warm, brave and generous man; “a flame that will never die.” (2010 interview with VOA TV)

Upon his return to Iran, in the period 1946-1948, he was hired in the newly formed Ministry of Labor and appointed to head the Labor Departments in the provinces of Isfahan and then Khuzestan, where he encouraged independent union activities and became popular among oil and textile industry workers (Confidential Biographic Data on Bakhtiar prepared by US State Department Economic Officer dated November 10, 1952). His efforts drew hostility from both the pro-Soviet Tudeh Party (influential among the oil industry workers) and the British Anglo- Iranian Oil Company, which ultimately led to his removal from Khuzestan.  He was then personal advisor to the Under Secretary of Labor and served as the Director General of the Ministry of Labor during Mohammad Mosaddeq’s premiership, 1951-1953. Thanks to his expertise on labor issues, Bakhtiar played a leading role in the approval of Workers’ Social Security Law and the creation of the Workers' Social Security Organization in 1952. 

Bakhtiar considered himself a social democrat and had a strong commitment to secular democracy, which he believed was possible if Iran’s constitution was respected and the King accepted the role of a constitutional monarch. His PhD thesis was on the relationship between church and state in antiquity. In 1949 he joined the social-democratic Iran Party, where he led the youth organization in the 1960s before being elected as the Party’s leader. The Iran Party was the strongest constituent of the pro-Mossadeq National Front coalition, which he worked to revive after it was banned in 1953. Following the overthrow of Mossadeq in 1953, Bakhtiar was arrested multiple times and spent close to six years in jail for his peaceful dissent and activities to revive the National Front. Bakhtiar was one of the three signatories of the June 12, 1977 open letter to the King, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, demanding the respect of Iranians' rights as recognized by the Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He opposed the decision of other pro-democracy figures during 1978 to align with the future Spiritual Leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Earlier, in 1963, Bakhtiar had also opposed the idea of the National Front supporting the Ayatollah’s protest movement against the King’s White Revolution, in particular because the protesters opposed the land reform and women’s right to vote (ABC research).

In late December 1978, in a last attempt to prevent the fall of the regime, the King mandated Bakhtiar to form a government. Concerned about the rise of a religious dictatorship and regardless of the personal cost to him including his exclusion from the National Front, Bakhtiar accepted and took many steps during his 37-day premiership to restore Iranians’ fundamental rights, including the release of all political prisoners, lifting media censorship, and ordering the dissolution of the political police. He also called on Iranians to form political parties and prepare to participate in elections: the Ayatollah rejected this and declared Bakhtiar’s government illegal. Deprived of the support of the army, he was forced out of office on February 11, 1979 and went into hiding for several months before leaving for France in the summer of 1979, where he founded the first opposition movement to the Islamic government in exile (The daily Keyhan, May 14 and 17, 1979; Shapur Bakhtiar’s Memoirs: “Ma Fidelite,” Albin Michel, 1982, and ABC research).

In the years 1990-1991, there were ongoing negotiations between France and Iran to settle the Eurodif dispute arising from the Islamic Republic of Iran’s 1979 withdrawal from a joint project, initiated six years earlier, to build an uranium enrichment plant, in part with a $1 billion dollar loan from Iran. France’s Foreign Minister had visited Iran in May 1991 and the French government was optimistic about the chances of settling the dispute and resuming normal commercial and diplomatic relations with Iran. At the same time, pressure on Mr. Bakhtiar’s movement to diminish its activities had increased to a point that Mr. Bakhtiar was considering leaving France (Le Monde August 10, 1991; Radio Farda interview with Ladan Boroumand).

The National Movement of the Iranian Resistance

On August 5, 1980, M. Bakhtiar and several of his followers founded the National Movement of the Iranian Resistance (NAMIR) in Paris, France. It was inspired by the National Resistance Movement that was established after the fall of Mohammad Mosaddeq’s government in 1953. Bakhtiar invited all liberal-nationalist groups and individuals to unite their forces around one political platform under the Movement’s umbrella. In its “Intellectual Principles and Political Platform”, published on January 15, 1981, the National Resistance Movement announced its aim to be the establishment of democracy and a system based upon the free will of the people, so that citizens could be provided with the opportunity for a free, fruitful, and valuable life. Bakhtiar insisted upon a pluralistic political structure, and considered commitment to nationalism, democracy, and social justice to be the necessary conditions for membership in NAMIR. 

NAMIR undertook, in its own words, “to establish the rule of law in Iran under a political system whose form and principles shall be freely approved and elected by the Iranian nation with the framework of the international law and practice.” Such a system would “respect the charter of the United-Nations and the provision of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights'' and “observe fundamental freedoms” while “[dedicating] itself to the cause of international peace and security.” NAMIR committed itself to three objectives: “the establishment of social justice with a secular, non-ideological and non-sectarian content,” “the principle of independence” (encompassing “furtherance of international cooperation, [and the] attainment of peace in the regional conflicts [i.e. the Iran-Iraq War] through international cooperation), and the “principle of democracy” (with “utmost importance” attached to “the preservation by the Iranian nation of all its acquisitions resulting from the constitutional revolution of 1906”). Emphasizing a vision of liberal popular sovereignty, NAMIR stressed that it could “neither impose on the country a given ideology under the grand title of social justice,” nor “allow any political current to attempt such imposition. Choice in all matters must be made through the free expression of opinion of the people” (National Movement of the Iranian Resistance, a brochure published by NAMIR-UK, 1985). 

In the early years of its activity, a wide array of Iranians both inside and outside Iran either joined or supported NAMIR. Among its principal activities were organizing political and military branches in various countries and in Iran; establishing contact with those opposed to the regime inside Iran and striving to organize them and to gather political and military intelligence; organizing assemblies and protests; disseminating Iran-related news, especially information regarding human rights violations and arbitrary executions inside and outside the country through publication of books and magazines (“Nehzat” weekly magazine and “Qiam-e Iran” weekly); establishment of radio broadcasts in various countries including Iraq and Egypt; conducting interviews with foreign and Persian language media; corresponding with human rights institutions including the United Nations (for the purpose of conducting a referendum on the Islamic Republic under UN auspices and/or reporting on the mass murder of political prisoners in the summer of 1988); and promoting human rights and democracy.**

As time went by, civil struggles became a more important part of NAMIR’s activities. The first such civil movement that took shape at NAMIR’s initiative was anti-war protests. On May 17, 1985, NAMIR dispatched a call to companies and offices in Iran which had fax machines, and called on the people through radio broadcasts and telephone calls to take part in peaceful demonstrations against the regime and protest the continuation of the war with Iraq. It was said that people in various towns answered the call and participated in the demonstrations (ABC research).

In the first decade of its establishment, a large number of NAMIR  members were threatened and assassinated, including founders Shapur Bakhtiar and Abdorrahman Boroumand, who were killed in Paris in 1991, and several officers of NAMIR’s military arm, who were also victims of extrajudicial killings outside Iran.

Background of Extrajudicial Killings by the Islamic Republic of Iran 

The Islamic Republic of Iran has a long history of politically motivated violence in Iran and around the world. Since the 1979 Revolution, Islamic Republic operatives inside and outside the country have engaged in kidnapping, disappearing, and killing a large number of individuals whose activities they deemed undesirable. The actual number of the victims of extrajudicial killings inside Iran is not clear; however, these murders began in February 1979 and have continued since then, both inside and outside Iran. The Abdorrahman Boroumand Center has so far identified over 540 killings outside Iran attributed to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Dissidents have been assassinated by the agents of the Islamic Republic outside Iran in countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Japan, India, and Pakistan in Asia; Dubai, Iraq, and Turkey in the Middle East; Cyprus, France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and Great Britain in Europe; and the United States across the Atlantic Ocean. In most cases there has not been much published and the local authorities have not issued arrest warrants. But documentation, evidence, and traces obtained through investigations conducted by local police and judicial authorities confirm, however, the theory of state committed crimes. In certain cases, these investigations have resulted in the expulsion or arrest of Iranian diplomats. In limited cases outside Iran, the perpetrators of these murders have been arrested and put on trial and the evidence presented, revealed the defendants’ connection to Iran’s government institutions, and an arrest warrant has been issued for Iran’s Minister of Information.

The manner in which these killings were organized and implemented in Iran and abroad, is indicative of a single pattern which, according to Roland Chatelin, the Swiss prosecutor, contains common parameters and detailed planning. It can be ascertained from the similarities between these murders in different countries that the Iranian government is the principal entity who ordered the implementation of these crimes. Iranian authorities have not officially accepted responsibility for these murders and have even attributed their commission to internal strife in opposition groups. Nevertheless, since the very inception of the Islamic Republic regime, the Islamic Republic officials have justified these crimes from an ideological and legal standpoint. In the spring of 1979, Sadeq Khalkhali, the first Chief Shari’a Judge of the Islamic Revolutionary Courts, officially announced the regime’s decision to implement extrajudicial executions, and justified the decision: “ … These people have been sentenced to death; from the Iranian people’s perspective, if someone wants to assassinate these individuals abroad, in any country, no government has any right to bring the perpetrator to trial as a terrorist, because such a person is the implementing agent of the sentence issued by the Islamic Revolutionary Court. Therefore, they are Mahduroddam and their sentence is death regardless of where they are.” More than 10 years after these proclamations, in a speech about the security forces’ success, Ali Fallahian, the regime’s Minister of Information stated the following regarding the elimination of members of the opposition: “ … We have had success in inflicting damage to many of these little groups outside the country and on our borders”

At the same time, various political, judicial, and security officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran have, at different times and occasions, confirmed the existence of a long term government policy for these extrajudicial killings and in some cases their implementation. ***

Threats and Failed Assassination Attempts 

The extrajudicial killing of Mr. Bakhtiar was preceded by both death threats issued by the highest levels of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s leadership and failed assassination plots. 

In a speech given on May 6, 1979 - just months after Bakhtiar was driven from power - Ayatollah Khomeini had condemned Bakhtiar to death. On May 17, 1979, in response to human rights supporters who had expressed concerns regarding summary executions in Iran, the Leader of the revolution defended the execution of Amir Abbas Hoveida, who had served as Prime Minister for 13 years, and stated that “any former prime ministers that we are able to find, such as Bakhtiar and Sharif Emami, are sentenced to death.” 

Sadeq Khalkhali, who had been appointed Shari’a Judge by the Leader of the Revolution on February 24, 1979, was given the mission to preside “over tribunals that were convened to try defendants and prisoners,” and issue Islamic/Shari’a-based sentences “upon carrying out all trial preparations based on Shari’a tenets.” Khalkhali had previously found a number of officials of the previous regime to be Mofsed fel-Arz (“one that spreads corruption on earth”, a charge that carries the death sentence) and executed them. Two days after Ayatollah Khomeini’s speech, he called Shapur Bakhtiar a corruptor on earth, a charge that he subsequently repeated in numerous interviews and alluded to a death sentence having been issued for previous prime ministers, including Shapur Bakhtiar. Khalkhali stated that the Islamic Republic had the right to carry out that sentence anywhere in the world. He also stated in an interview with the French weekly L’Express (June 14 to 20, 1980 edition) that Bakhtiar was on an Islamic Republic black list and a commando unit had been charged with his assassination.

Less than a month later, on July 18, 1980,  Islamic Republic officials attempted to assassinate Bakhtiar. Though they failed in their mission, they killed two French citizens and gravely injured one. The attack was carried out by a commando led by Anis Naccache, a Lebanese Christian and former member of Fatah who claimed to have trained Imad Moqnieh and Iranian revolutionaries in his training camp in Lebanon before 1979 (Hajj, January 1, 2010). The members of the commando were arrested, tried, and sentenced to life imprisonment (March 10, 1982). In this operation, the commando killed a police officer and shot Bakhtiar’s neighbor after mistakenly ringing her doorbell. 

In 1986, a wave of deadly bombings took place in Paris (at department stores, a post office, a police station, etc.). A communiqué by an unknown group calling itself “Committee of Solidarity with Arab and Middle East Political Prisoners in Lebanon,” sent to a news agency in Lebanon, claimed responsibility for the bombings and demanded the release of Naccache and his accomplices. Iran’s Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Velayati, reiterated the demand in a joint press conference with his French counterpart Roland Dumas in February 1989, reminding France of a 1988 promise made by Jacque Chirac (Le Monde, February 14, 1989). Eventually Naccache and his accomplices were pardoned by President François Mitterand (July 27, 1990) and left France for Iran, where Naccache became a businessman and resided until his death, reportedly in Damascus from Covid-19 on February 22, 2021 at the age of 70 (Mehr News, February 22, 2021).

Following the 1980 terror attempt, Mr. Bakhtiar moved to a house in the suburbs of Paris to ensure that an attack against him would not endanger neighbors. His security detail was also strengthened. According to statements of Iran’s officials and agents, including Naccache, a revolutionary tribunal had sentenced Bakhtiar to death in absentia and Ayatollah Khomeini had issued a fatwa against him. An Iranian exile by the name of Mojtaba Mashhadi, himself indicted for his role in the killing of another Iranian dissident, Cyrus Elahi, in Paris in 1990, was interrogated in relation with Bakhtiar's case investigation. Mashhadi told the police that a man named Bagher, an affiliate of Iran's Ministry of information, had told him that Bakhtiar had been "sentenced to death by a revolutionary tribunal in Tehran.” His execution, Bagher had told Mashhadi, would “prevent him from doing harm again” (Warrant for the arrest of Mojtaba Mashhadi issued by the Appellate Court of Paris, Second Criminal Panel of the Court, February 11, 2000 with addended statement of Jean Francois Gayroud, police inspector attached to the Intelligence Service, made on November 14, 1994). 

The Ministry of Information, through the then-deputy Information Minister Ali Fallahian, attempted a second time to have Mr. Bakhtiar assassinated in 1989, this time through a trusted member of his own organization. One of NAMIR’s members, Fariborz Karimi, who lived in Paris at the time, told French investigators that Iranian authorities provided him with poison, which would produce fatal stroke-like effects, to mix in Mr. Bakhtiar’s drink in 1989. Karimi had met a friend and former NAMIR member, Manuchehr Akasheh, in Frankfurt. Akasheh, himself a regime recruit, had tried to recruit Karimi: “They are going to kill [Bakhtiar] Someone will do it. If you want to make some money, you can do it” said Akasheh. Karimi’s reward for such service would be "$600k, a house in Tehran, and anything else [Karimi wanted]." Karimi also told French authorities that Fallahian (using a pseudonym) had called him multiple times to encourage him to carry out the mission and grew impatient and threatening. Worried by the eventual consequence of his refusal, Karimi broke with Bakhtiar by denouncing him in a written statement and left Paris for London and the US where he was granted asylum (PBS Frontline, August 6, 2011 and Los Angeles Times, November 25, 1994).

Mr. Shapur Bakhtiar’s Assassination

Mr. Bakhtiar was killed along with his secretary Soroush Katibeh, on August 6, 1991, at his residence (37, Cluseret Street, Suresne, a Paris suburb). The residence was under heavy protection of the French police. A truck with policemen was posted outside the residence and the basement had been turned into guards’ quarters where four members of special forces of the Compagnie Republicaine de Securite (CRS), in charge of the protection of high dignitaries, were present at all times. They were tasked to check the identity of all visitors, a list of whom they would obtain every morning from Mr. Bakhtiar’s secretary, and to search visitors before they entered the house. They also were tasked to patrol around the house after each shift and report anything that seemed out of the ordinary (Verdict of Judge Henry H. Kennedy in Bakhtiar v. Islamic Republic of Iran, United States District Court of the District of Columbia, June 17, 2008).

That day, Mr. Bakhtiar had a scheduled meeting with three men including a NAMIR member Fereidoon Boyerahmadi, who had been recruited by Iran's intelligence services. Boyerahmadi was trusted by Bakhtiar and visited him frequently. He had set the meeting between Mr. Bakhtiar and the two other visitors, Ali Vakili Rad and Mohammad Azadi, claiming that they were members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps who wanted to join NAMIR. Bakhtiar was supposed to be alone in the house for this sensitive meeting. His son, a police officer who ensured his security inside the house, was away for a couple of days and the lady who took care of the house was on holiday. 

The visitors arrived as planned at 5:00 PM. They were searched and left their passports with the agents in the basement and entered the house. They left at 6:00 PM without difficulty, leaving the television on at a loud volume. 

While in the house, the attackers had crushed Mr. Bakhtiar’s throat, asphyxiating him, and stabbed him and Mr. Katibeh multiple times with knives taken from the kitchen (including a bread knife) causing their death, according to the coroner’s report. In addition, the attackers had slit the throat and the wrists of Mr. Bakhtiar.

Although the police were stationed at Mr. Bakhtiar’s home 24 hours a day, French authorities announced having discovered the victims' slain bodies 36 hours after they had been murdered. The bodies were discovered late morning on August 8, when Mr. Bakhtiar’s son, not being able to reach his father on the phone, came back from his trip to check on him.

For reasons that were never clearly explained, the guards assigned to Mr. Bakhtiar’s protection failed to respect several security protocols: for example, the killers did not individually pick up their passports left with the guards in the basement, as they were required to. Instead all three passports were turned over to Boyerahmadi. Police stationed in the basement routinely checked in at 10:00 AM daily to obtain a list of visitors: exceptionally, they did not do so on the morning of August 7 and 8. Post-shift patrols were supposed to check around the house and report anomalies: officers apparently failed to patrol around the house, thus missing several anomalies including the fact that shutters had stayed open for two nights and that groceries delivered on August 7 were not picked up (Le Monde, August 10 and 13, 1991, and ABC research). 

The delay in launching a search for the three men and disseminating their pictures gave them a head start to flee France. On August 7th, the three men attempted to cross the Swiss border by taxi. Iranian agents had been dispatched to Switzerland to facilitate their exfiltration. The Swiss guard at the Thonex-Vallard crossing (who later testified at the trial) found their Turkish passports and visas suspicious, particularly due to their French-style numbering system instead of the Turkish system, despite being ostensibly issued by Turkey. Consequently, the guard turned the men over to his French counterparts, who released them shortly afterward, even though they were carrying fake passports and cold weapons.

In the meantime, concerned about the absence of news about the killing of Mr. Bakhtiar, Iranian agents tried to get confirmation of his death, and the rumor of his death reached NAMIR members from Shiraz, which finally alerted Bakhtiar’s son and led to the discovery of the bodies. The three men were stranded in French territory, moving from place to place and making mistakes such as phone calls toTurkey, where a command center had been created for the mission, and leaving a phone book in a telephone booth. All these missteps would later show Iran’s connection to the assassins.  

Mr. Shapur Bakhtiar was buried in Paris’ Montparnasse Cemetery.

Iranian authorities' involvement in this assassination was documented in the course of a two-year investigation led by the French investigative Magistrate judge, Jean-Louis Bruguière. According to Judge Bruguière's report, in August 1991, the American and British Governments intercepted and decoded messages sent by the Iranian Ministry of Information to Europe concerning the execution of Mr. Bakhtiar. On Wednesday, August 7th, 24 hours before Bakhtiar and Katibeh's bodies were discovered, said Ministry was asking for information about the murder (L'Express, August 22, 1991). Prior to the discovery of Bakhtiar’s body and the official announcement of his assassination, a number of rumors were circulating in the city of Shiraz concerning his death.

Visas for Azadi and Vakili Rad and other individuals involved in the operation were obtained through Swiss and French businessmen and a French diplomat married to the sister-in-law of one of the agents. Massoud Hendi, a nephew of Ayatollah Khomeini and a representative of the Iranian State Television in Paris, was indicted along with a number of people linked to the Iranian government, following investigations by the French police and Special Prosecutor for Terrorism. At the request of Hossein Sheikh Attar, Hendi had helped an Iranian Ministry of Information official to obtain entry visas to France for the killers using false names under the guise of being electronics dealers, through the French company Syfex. Subsequently, Azadi and Vakili Rad also requested and obtained visas under their own names (Extracts from Judge Bruguière’s instructions). 

The name of Massoud Hendi had previously come up in the investigations concerning the murder of two other Iranian exiles in Paris, namely General Golam Ali Oveissi and his brother Gholam Hosein Oveisi. The analysis of Vakili Rad and Azadi’s phone conversations led to an Iranian-born Turkish national, Mesut Edipsoy, who had forged fake Turkish passports for the killers in order to enable them to leave France. Prior to and after Bakhtiar’s murder, two Iranians involved in the plot had made numerous phone calls to Iran's Telecommunications Ministry from Edipsoy’s apartment. Investigations showed that the aforementioned Tehran phone numbers had been used by the Iranian intelligence agents and by members of the assassins’ support team in Geneva (Liberation, September 20, 1991).

Zeinol’abedin Sarhadi, who had come to Switzerland on August 13, 1991 under the pretext of working as an archivist at the Iranian Embassy for three months, had made hotel reservations for the assassins and facilitated their escape. Sarhadi’s mission was, in fact, to exfiltrate the murderers. Sarhadi’s order to carry out the mission had been issued on July 16, 1991, by Ali Akbar Velayati, the Iranian Foreign Minister (Le Monde, February 26, 1992). Two other Iranians, arrested in Istanbul for having provided forged identity papers to the killers, were also said to be affiliated with “Iranian intelligence services'' (Liberation, October 4, 1991). The first, Gholamhossein Shurideh Shirazinejad, who was already well known in business circles, had asked Comatra, a Swiss firm, to issue an invitation for a ‘friend’ for purposes of obtaining an entry visa. The ‘friend’ was in fact one of the killers who obtained a visa to enter Switzerland. The other suspect, Nasser Qaseminejad, was an Iranian intelligence official in Geneva. He had helped the terrorists go back to Iran (Le Figaro, 22 April 1993).

Moreover, former Ministry of Information operative Abolhassem Mesbahi (also known as “Witness C”), who was based in Paris and Geneva in the 1980s and once headed Iran’s intelligence operations in Europe before falling out of favor and defecting, testified to French judicial authorities that “there was a special section within the Iranian government which was in charge of assassination of freedom fighter[s].” According to the attorney for the Bakhtiar family in the French proceedings, Mesbahi said that Iran’s Ministry of Information had organized Bakhtiar’s assassination (United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law in Rafi’ii vs. Islamic Republic of Iran, December 2, 2002, p.14). Mesbahi had met and negotiated on behalf of President Rafsanjani multiple times with high-ranking Western officials, including the French Foreign Minister Rolland Dumas who confirmed that he had met with Mesbahi and the latter was well informed and had clearly full authority to negotiate (Witness C documentary). The credibility of Mesbahi’s information was ascertained through cooperation and information sharing between Swiss, German and Argentinian authorities. Mesbahi was thus a key witness in the trial of individuals who had machine gunned Kurdish leaders in the Mikonos restaurant in Berlin (interview Frank Garbely, director of Witness C documentary, 6 July 2023). 

An informed source interviewed by ABC confirmed details of Azadi’s political leanings, physical attributes, and career with Iranian security forces. Based on available information, Azadi was born in Golpayegan, Isfahan Province, and in youth was very athletic and known to be a neighborhood “hooligan.” In the lead-up to the revolution, he encouraged others to participate in religious mourning ceremonies. After the revolution, Azadi worked in the office of Prime Minister Mohammad Ali Rajai (who served from August 1980 to August 1981). In the office of the Prime Minister, Azadi was assigned to the communications department, which connected and recorded calls from overseas. In this position, Azadi enjoyed promotions, while training in martial arts. By 1986, Azadi had entered the security services, and had a ministerial car at his disposal (ABC interview with source with knowledge of Mohammad Azadi, June 16 and August 24, 2022, and July 2, 2023).

Iranian Officials’ Reaction

According to available information, in the weeks following French media’s reports of Iranian state involvement in the killing of Mr. Bakhtiar, the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran officially denied having any role (Le Monde, August 28 and September 11, 1991). 

Then-President Hashemi Rafsanjani recorded in his memoirs that Fallahian, Minister of Information, informed him of Bakhtiar and his colleague’s assassination on August 6, prior to the discovery of the bodies and circulation of reports. The following morning, following a briefing from Fallahian, Rafsanjani “explained basic issues” to Fallahian and other Ministry of Information officials, also prior to any media coverage (Memoirs of Hashemi Rafsanjani for the Persian year 1370, page 259).

In an extensive article regarding the assassination of Bakhtiar and other members of the National Resistance Movement (published on September 18, 1991), the semi-official Iranian newspaper, Jomhuri Eslami, while denying Iran’s role in the assassination, provided a detailed description of NAMIR and a numbers of assassinated members’ activities. The article concluded that these “murders, along with the successful assassination of the translators of Satanic Verses in Japan and Italy, has increased the counter-revolutionaries’ fear of death manifold” and resulted in the weakening of the Islamic Republic’s opponents. The article also noted that “the French government’s protective ring around the Iranian counter-revolutionaries residing in that country is fragile and penetrable” and emphasized: “Naturally, this vulnerability, and the French police’s inability to protect the refugees’ lives, will result in the counter-revolutionaries losing their trust in their capabilities, especially since not much time has passed since the assassination of Abdorrahman Boroumand, the National Resistance Movement’s number two man (after Bakhtiar), and Sirus Elahi, deputy to Manuchehr Ganji (leader of the Derafsh-e Kaviani Organization), in Paris.”

In 1992, in a speech on the success of security forces in eliminating opposition members, Fallahian, the Islamic Republic’s then-Minister of Information stated: “… We succeeded in inflicting major blows to many of these little groups outside the country and along the border” (Speech broadcast on State Radio and Television on August 31, 1992; quoted from Asr-e Iran, May 19, 2010).

In May 2010, Iranian authorities welcomed the only member of the commando who was convicted and later pardoned by France, Ali Vakili Rad, as a hero. Hassan Qashqavi, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Deputy for Consular Affairs, and Kazem Jalali, the Islamic Consultative Assembly’s (“Majles” or Parliament) Head of the National Security Committee greeted Vakili Rad in person at the airport and called him “a model of resistance” and a “hero” (Radio Farda, May 19, 2010). Moreover, Fereidun Boyerahmadi, after returning to Iran, began working under the name Farhad Mahdyar as the Executive Director of Qazvin Province Grains and Commercial Services Company (IranWire, August 12, 2021).

French Officials’ Reaction There has been no accountability or transparency regarding the French police’s failure to respect procedures and arrest the commando members while they were in France. The laxity of the agents in charge of protecting Mr. Bakhtiar had been observed a few months prior to the murders by the predecessor of Mr. Katibeh, who visited the house several times with his father. The police had at times omitted subjecting him to a search, he said (Interview ABC with a friend of Soroush Katibeh, March 29, 2022).

During the 1994 trial, the French border guard, in response to questions related to his actions on August 7, including why he had not found the commando members suspicious though he knew their Swiss visas were fake, said he did not know. As for the reason for the men’s release from custody, the French guard said “I did not understand their language.”  Further, a French police investigator told Ladan Boroumand, whose father Abdorrahman Boroumand was subject to an extrajudicial killing just weeks prior, that multiple attempts to arrest Vakili Rad and Azadi were frustrated when the media were informed (presumably by a source within the police) of their location, and their presence alerted the men, allowing them to flee (ABC interview with Ladan Boroumand). 

However, the French Judiciary’s investigations of the extrajudicial killings of Mr. Bakhtiar and Mr. Katibeh lasted more than three years, the result of which was a 8,300-page case file.**** Ali Vakili Rad, one of the assassins, was arrested in Geneva on August 21, 1991. Hendi was arrested in Paris on September 13. Sarhadi, arrested December 23 outside the Iranian embassy in Bern, was turned over by Swiss authorities to France upon the latter’s request. France also issued arrest warrants for Vakili Rad’s other accomplices who had fled France and Switzerland.

On October 22, 1991, Magistrate Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière issued an international arrest warrant for Hossein Sheikh Attar for “collusion in murder, conspiracy, and violation of the law regarding a terrorist act”(Le Monde, October 26, 1991). Sheikh Attar was the technical adviser to the Iranian Ministry of Telecommunications for its Satellite Communication Program. This Ministry is known for its close connections to Iranian intelligence services. On April 21, 1993, Bruguière issued arrest warrants for two other Iranian officials, Gholamhossein Shurideh Shirazinejad and Nasser Qaseminejad. 

The trial of Vakili Rad, Hendi, and Sarhadi started in November 1994. The defendants were, according to available information, represented by highly experienced attorneys charging hefty legal fees (Abdolkarim Lahiji, BBC, August 4, 2011). The attorneys were also close to high ranking French decision-makers: Frederique Pons was the daughter of Bernard Pons, who served as a parliamentarian and Minister in the Chirac government, while Diane Francois was the daughter of a prominent Geneva-based banker of Austrian origin, Jean-Pierre Francois, who had advised France’s Socialist Foreign Minister Dumas and President Mitterrand on Iran matters (La Voix du Nord, April 27, 2022, and Le Temps, December 18, 1998). This legal team fought though unsuccessfully, to prevent NAMIR from being named as a plaintiff in the case, and insisted that the Iranian government was not on trial (Le Monde, November 17, 1994). 

The defendants were tried by the Paris Special Criminal Court (“la Cour d’Assises Speciales”) from November 2 through December 6, 1994. Members of France’s civil society, including the organization SOS Attentat, and the International Federation for Human Rights, were among the plaintiffs. The Court found Ali Vakili Rad guilty and sentenced him to life imprisonment (French Judicial authorities pardoned him 16 years later). Massoud Hendi was sentenced to ten years imprisonment for his role as an accomplice in the terrorist conspiracy. Zeinolabedin Sarhadi was acquitted and sent back to Iran.

Gholam Hossein Shurideh Shirazinejad, Nasser Qaseminejad, Fereidun Boyerahmadi, Mohammad Azadi, and Mesut Edipsoy were all tried in absentia, found guilty, and sentenced to life in prison on June 16, 1995. Hossein Sheikh Attar, similarly tried, was sentenced to life in prison.

Another defendant, Fereshteh Jahanbani, had rented an apartment in which Boyerahmadi, one of the killers, had gone into hiding after the crime. She admitted to collaborating with Iran’s Ministry of Information. The police found codes and a special pen with invisible ink in her apartment. She identified Amirollah Teimuri, Iran Air’s chief of security at Paris’ Orly Airport, as her superior. Teimuri was prosecuted for espionage activities on behalf of a foreign power (Liberation, October 25, 1991).

At the release of the judgment, which found Sarhadi innocent, Francoise Rudetski of SOS Attentat, noted that the trial failed to hold Iran accountable (news archives of Institut national de l'audiovisuel).

The French President, François Mitterand, acknowledged the responsibility of the regime of the Islamic Republic in the assassination, and canceled his visit to Tehran scheduled for the fall of 1991, in protest (Interview with Yedioth Ahronoth, November 20, 1992). Regardless, the Eurodif dispute was resolved in December 1991, and France and Iran undertook a rapprochement.

Familys’ Reaction

Shapour Bakhtiar’s family sought justice in court in France and the US. 

Both France Mokhateb Rafi’i, a daughter of Bakhtiar’s through his first marriage, and Bakhtiar’s widow Shahintaj pursued damages against the government of Iran in US courts through the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. A judge awarded Rafi’i $305 million dollars in punitive damages in 2002, $300 million of which was to be paid by the Ministry of Information specifically. In 2008, a judge pronounced Iran liable for $12 million in compensatory damages to Shahintaj Bakhtiar (United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law in Rafi’ii vs. Islamic Republic of Iran, December 2, 2002 and Verdict of Judge Henry H. Kennedy in Bakhtiar v. Islamic Republic of Iran, United States District Court of the District of Columbia, June 17, 2008).

As noted by the judge in the Rafi’i case, “it is clear that the murders took efforts to mutilate Dr. Bakhtiar’s body,” with one expert witness describing the killing as “the most savage that we have seen outside of Iran.” Such mutilation is a “trait of Iran-ordered killings'' meant to “frighten other dissidents” and “insult the victim” according to testimony heard by that judge (United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law in Rafi’ii vs. Islamic Republic of Iran, December 2, 2002). 

Impact on the Family  

Mr. Bakhtiar’s family was shattered after this brutal assassination. Just days after Mr. Bakhtiar’s assassination, on August 22, his older daughter Viviane, who took care of her siblings when her father was a political prisoner in Iran, died of a heart attack at a Cannes hospital after battling multiple health problems (UPI, August 24, 1991). France Mokhateb Rafi’i, believes news of the killing hastened Viviane’s death. Bakhtiar’s son Guy (brother to France), also under tremendous pressure following the assassination of his father, was diagnosed with cancer and died within a year of the assassination. Though there are no public statements from Guy’s wife and two children, France Rafi’i believes his death, too, was a result of stress related to the killing (United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law in Rafi’ii vs. Islamic Republic of Iran, December 2, 2002).  

In a 2010 interview, France Rafi’i said French officials’ decision to return Vakili Rad to Iran felt as if her father was killed again. “It’s like whoever takes on a mission from the Islamic Republic to come to and assassinate someone in France, spends a little while in prison, goes free, and goes back to Iran as a hero… his going free was an enormous blow to the Bakhtiar family and many Iranians” said France Bakthiar (VOA TV, August 6, 2010).

In a 2008 verdict, U.S. District Judge Kennedy ruled that Bakhtiar’s widow Shahintaj had suffered “severe emotional distress” owing to the murder (Courthouse News Service, July 18, 2008).


*Other sources include News archives of Institut national de l'audiovisuel, Courthouse News Service (July 18, 2008), UPI (August 24, 1991), Los Angeles Times (November 25, 1994),‌ Ghandchi (August 6, 2010), The New York Times (July 28, 1990 and January 6, 1992), Liberation, (September 20, October 4 and 25, 1991), State Radio and Television on (August 31, 1992) quoted from Asr-e Iran (May 19, 2010), Radio Farda (May 19, 2010), Abdolkarim Lahiji, BBC (August 4, 2011); La Voix du Nord (April 27, 2022), Le Temps (December 18, 1998), Interview with Yedioth Ahronoth (November 20, 1992), Hajj (January 1, 2010), Mehr News (February 22, 2021), Memoirs of Hashemi Rafsanjani for the Persian year 1370, The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project interview with  George M. Barbis, Library of Congress (2006), Alain Rodier, French Center for Intelligence Research (May 2013), The daily Keyhan (May 14 and 17, 1979), Le Figaro (July 19, 1980 and April 22, 1993), France Soir (July 18, 1980 and July 19, 1980), Paris Match (August 1, 1980), Le Monde (July 19, 1980; February 26 and 27, March 5, and March 12, 1982; August 10 and 13, 1991; November 17, 1994), L’Express magazine (June 14 - 20 and July 26 - August 1, 1980, and August 22, 1991), Donya-e Eqtesad (January 21, 2013), Landinfo (Swedish Immigration) on the Iranian Welfare System (2020), and IranWire (August 12, 2021).
** An article published by the official newspaper Jomhuri Eslami following Bakhtiar’s assassination described NAMIR’s objectives as “establishing a royalist regime on a democratic basis,” “creating the grounds for the separation of religion and politics,” and the promotion of Bakhtiar’s commitments as a social democrat, namely “patriotism,” “freedom,” and “socialism.” The article outlined the activities of NAMIR’s branches. The political branch sought to “disseminate the views and thoughts of the movement’s leadership regarding political events and present a campaign program to the resistance cells and grouplets inside the country,” while “encouraging pride in the ancient national culture and promoting the revival of nationalist ideas.” Another branch focused on tribal matters, attempting to organize Boyer-Ahmadi, Qashqai, Balochi, Akrad, Gilaks, and Bakhtiar’s own Bakhtiari ethnic groups. A covert branch, meanwhile, worked to “harmonize among, and disseminate the appropriate policies and tactics to, the units inside the country.” This covert branch was reportedly able to recruit “elements… who had either left or fled the country, and in this way, was able to expand its counter-revolutionary actions against the system” (Jomhuri Eslami, September 18, 1991). 
***Read more about the background of extrajudicial killings in the Islamic Republic of Iran by clicking on the left hand highlight with the same title.*** In the French judicial system, the investigating authority is the Magistrate Judge, who is charged in terrorism cases with finding and examining witnesses and preparing a “interrogatory commission” to the police in order to determine who was responsible for the death. After investigation concludes, the Magistrate Judge issues a determination of guilt or innocence of the accused and  the case is referred (at the request of a state attorney) to a special section of the Court of Appeal. Should the judges of that Court of Appeal agree with the findings, the case proceeds to the Court of Assizes, which may uphold or dismiss the accusations, and, in the case of a finding of guilt, pronounces the sentence. See United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law in Rafi’ii vs. Islamic Republic of Iran, December 2, 2002, p. 11.

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