Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

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

Fazel Rasul


Age: 41
Nationality: Iraq
Religion: Islam
Civil Status: Married


Date of Killing: July 13, 1989
Location of Killing: Linke Bahngasse 5, Vienna, Austria
Mode of Killing: Extrajudicial shooting
Charges: Unknown charge

About this Case

Information about the assassination of Mr. Fazel Rasul and two of his companions, Mr. Abdol-Rahman Qasemlu and Mr. Abdollah Qaderi Azar [Ghaderi Azar] has been gathered from statements and documents (in Persian and French) by the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI);  “Biography of Fazel Rassoul, Dr. Qasemlu’s companion, on the 10th anniversary of their assassination”, in KurdishMedia;  “A Glance at the Life and Struggles of Martyr Abdollah Qaderi” in Kurdistan magazine; “Dr. Ghassemlou,”  in a special issue of the Bulletin de l'Institut Kurde de Paris; Memoirs of Helen Krulich (Qasemlu), the widow of Mr. Abdol-Rahman Qasemlu, titled, A European Woman in the Land of the Kurds; Parviz Dastmalchi’s investigations, Terror in the Name of God; Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, No Safe Haven:  Iran's Global Assassination Campaign;  Carol Prunhuber “Qāsemlu, Abd-al-Rahmān,” in  Encyclopedia Iranica; Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Sahifeye Nur; Kayhan, Ayandegan, and Ettela’at newspapers; reports by IRNA and the Agence France-Presse; and the French newspapers Le Monde and Liberation. For more information about these sources, see the endnotes. *

Born in 1948 in the city of Sulaymaniyah, in Iraq, Mr. Fazel Rasul completed his primary and secondary studies there. At the age of fifteen, he was reportedly arrested and tortured, for the first time, because of his political activism in a communist organization. At the age of twenty, while studying law and political science, he became Secretary General of the Student Union of Iraqi Kurdistan (Institut Kurde: 9). After graduation, in 1978, Fazel continued his clandestine political activism. He tried to revive the Iraqi communist party, along with those militants who had joined the Iraqi Kurds in their armed struggle against the central government (KurdishMedia). In the late 1970s, Mr. Rasul moved to Beirut, where he worked for a while at the Center for Palestinian Studies. This was the time of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and Mr. Rasul, along with many former young leftists in the region, became attracted to the revolutionary Islam promoted by Iran’s new leaders.  In 1980, Mr. Rasul moved to Vienna (Austria), where he completed his PhD in political science. During the eighties, Mr.  Rasul maintained relations with Kurdish organizations without adhering to any of them.  At the time of his murder, Fazel Rasul was editor of the Algerian magazine El Hiwar (Dialogue), created by Ahmed Ben Bella, former President of Algeria.

Mr. Rasul took a particular interest in the resolution of the Kurdish question and the end of the Kurds’enmity with the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI), to which he was sympathetic.  His dual sympathy for the Kurds and the Islamic Republic of Iran, prompted the Iranian authorities to choose him as an intermediary and to use him in their conspiracy against Dr. Abdol- Rahman Qasemlu, the charismatic leader of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI). Though a friendly Kurd who had facilitated the IRI agents' meeting with Mr. Qasemlu, Fazel Rasul was not spared by the killers who killed him to eliminate a witness and with him any evidence of IRI involvement in the crime.

Ahmad Ben Bella, the former President of Algeria and the owner of El Hiwar magazine, remembered Mr. Fazel Rasul as an amiable, well read, and cultured man, who was, above all, a man of dialogue.

Historical Background

The historical background on PDKI and its relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran helps shed light on the political motives underlying the triple murder of Vienna.

During the Islamic Revolution of Iran (1978-1979), the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI)** was promoting “autonomy for Kurdistan, democracy for Iran.” Ayatollah Khomeini’s political program, which sought to establish the Absolute Guardianship of the Jurist (Valayat e Faqih) and to limit the political freedoms of different-minded individuals, was at odds with PDKI’s agenda. The latter advocated the separation of church and state and, therefore, boycotted the referendum for the establishment of the Islamic Republic (30-31st March 1979).   From spring to summer of 1979, armed conflicts ensued between supporters of PDKI and forces connected to Ayatollah Khomeini gradually intensified.  In the election (3 August 1979) for members of the Assembly of Experts (restricted Constituent Assembly), Abdol-Rahman Qasemlu, the leader of PDKI, earned 80% of the votes in Orumieh and was elected representative of that city. However, on August 18, in a gathering of the members of the Assembly of Experts, Khomeini called the PDKI, “a terrorist association,” “a corrupted association,” and a “corrupter association” and announced Qasemlu as corrupted.  (Sahifeye Nur:  8/253)  On August 20, 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini, in a message to the people of Kurdistan, banned the PDKI for being “the party of Satan.”  (Sahifeye Nur:  8/257)

In this way, the Leader of the Islamic Revolution of Iran blocked the road to any peaceful resolution possible for the Kurdish problem. The army was sent to the region to suppress the Kurds.  The Revolutionary Guard Corps and the army fought the Kurdish peshmerga fighters for three months in order to gain control over Kurdish cities and more or less succeeded at the end.  On October 20, 1979, Qasemlu announced in Mahabad that the armed struggle of the Kurds would continue in the form of a guerilla warfare.  (Iranica:  Qāsemlu)  For three years after this announcement, the Democratic Party forces had control over a significant part of Kurdistan, except for the cities. However, with time, they had to leave the region and settle down in Iraqi Kurdistan.  (July 1984)

The Assassination: Murder in Vienna

After the end of the Iran-Iraq war (July 18, 1988), Islamic Republic officials invited Dr. Qasemlu for negotiations through the Iraqi Kurdish leader, Jalal Talibani.  (Iranica:  Qāsemlu)  Believing that the Kurdish problem could not be resolved through military action, Dr. Qasemlu accepted the invitation for negotiations, with PDKI’s central committee’s approval. The first round of these secret negotiations took place in Vienna, on the 30th and 31st of December, 1988 (PDKI: “The Life and Death of Qasemlu”).  The Iranian delegation sent to negotiate was led by Mohammad Jafari Sahraroudi, the head of Kurdish Affairs in the Ministry of Intelligence. In Qasemlu’s opinion, the negotiation process was positive, and they agreed on meeting a second time. The next meeting took place on January 19, 1989.  At the end of this round of negotiations, the Iranian delegation appeared to have agreed with the basic idea of autonomy for the Kurdish people and were only going to discuss the details of implementing it with their government.  (PDKI:  “Life and Death of Qasemlu”)  Six months later, during one of Qasemlu’s trips to Europe, Islamic Republic officials contacted him again.  Khomeini had passed away and Hashemi Rafsanjani, the head of the parliament, who was running for presidency, was promising reforms and an end to Iran’s international isolation to both the Iranian people and the international community.  Islamic Republic officials insisted that Dr. Qasemlu attend the negotiations and refused to take part in a meeting in his absence in March.  (Human Rights Documentation Center: 28)

On 12 July 1989, Qasemlu, along with Mr. Abdollah Qaderi Azar, the representative of PDKI in Europe, and Fazel Rasul, an Iraqi Kurdish resident of Vienna, who was in contact with Islamic Republic officials and acted as a mediator, met with the Iranian delegation in an apartment in Vienna.  The location of the apartment, 5 Linke Bahngasse, was not known to either of the negotiating parties, and Fazel Rassoul, who had provided the apartment, took each delegation there separately.  Since the negotiations did not yield any results in that meeting, the parties agreed to meet at 5:30 p.m., the next day for a second meeting.  Mr. Fazel Rasul would be waiting at the apartment for the representatives of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan and the delegation sent by the Islamic Republic.  At 5:30 p.m., Abdol-Rahman Qasemlu and Abdollah Qaderi-Azar arrived at the location without any cautionary and security provisions.  (Human Rights Documentation Center:  29)  A few minutes later, the Islamic Republic of Iran delegation, including Mohammad Jafari Sahraroudi and Amir Mansour Bozorgian (real name:  Ghafour Darjazi, member of Special Operations forces of the Revolutionary Guards Corps) joined them.  Dr. Qasemlu had secretly recorded the negotiations, and the tape was later handed over by the Austrian police to PDKI officials, who saw to the publication of the text of the negotiations.  (Dastmalchi:  289-290)

During these negotiations, Sahraroudi emphasizes the need for the negotiations to remain secret, so that the enemies do not manage to prevent them from continuing and reaching a conclusion.  Dr. Qasemlu reminds them of the two main points brought up in previous negotiations, i.e. autonomy for Kurdistan and the right to public political activity for PDKI.  Another point emphasized by Qasemlu is the problem of disarming the Kurdish peshmerga fighters after ten years of fighting.  He also emphasizes that autonomy is one of the main goals of the Kurdish movement and that nothing can be gained from denying it.  Qasemlu reminds the Iranian delegation that leaving the Kurdish problem unresolved can intensify separatist tendencies among Kurds.  In response, Sahraroudi refers to Islam and Islamic principles that determine Tehran’s policies.  And Dr. Qasemlu emphasizes the principle of autonomy again.  At the end of these negotiations, Fazel Rasul, the Iraqi Kurdish mediator, encourages the negotiating parties to reach an agreement and points out that, perhaps, the same conditions for peaceful negotiations might not exist in three years.  (Text of negotiations published in Le Monde newspaper, 1 January, 1998)

“Shortly after this proposal, there was a flurry of gunshots, in which two weapons could distinctly be heard. Dr. Qasemlu was shot in the forehead, temple and throat.” A final shot was also delivered to him (Human Rights Documentation Center:  29).  Sahraroudi was wounded by a single bullet and received no final shot.

“Sahraroudi gets out of the apartment [at about 7:20 p.m.] and rings the neighbor’s doorbell.  The neighbor calls the police immediately and, 10 minutes later, the police arrive at Bahngasse.  Sahraroudi has fallen on the pavement, covered in blood.  A little later, Bozorgian (Darjazi) appears and accompanies the police to Apartment 5, where the negotiations had taken place.  The two police officers who entered the apartment with him found a bloody envelope, containing $9400 in their body search of Mr. Bozergian.”  (Dastmalchi:  291)


Iranian Officials' Reaction

Islamic Republic officials deny any association with the murder conspiracy of Abdol-Rahman Qasemlu, Abdollah Qaderi-Azar, and Fazel Rasul.  In police interrogations, Sahraroudi claims that the murderers were unknown individuals who attacked the apartment during the negotiations and shot at all the negotiators present from the entrance and then ran away.  Two days after the assassination of the leader of PDKI along with Mr. Qaderi-Azar and Mr. Fazel Rasul, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Minister of Interior, Ali Akbar Mohtashami, said in a press conference that the Iraqi government was probably responsible for the crime.  He also claimed that the aim of the meeting between Mr. Qasemlu and the Islamic Republic delegation had been to discuss the return of repentant Kurds to Iran and to sort out their problem with the Judiciary.  (Agence France-Presse, quoting IRNA:  15 June 1989)  The Minister of the Interior was not aware that Dr. Qasemlu had recorded the negotiations secretly.

Austrian Officials' Reaction

Immediately after the crime was detected, the head of the Austrian Special Unit for Combating Terrorism, Mr. Oswald Kessler, was assigned to pursue and investigate the case. After a close examination of the location of the crime and the existing evidence, he made the following remarks:  


-        There is no sign on the door of the apartment, proving that it had been opened by force.

-        All three Kurdish individuals have received final shots.

-        Two of the three Kurds were caught completely by surprise and were killed while sitting.  If a stranger had entered the room from outside, they would absolutely not remain seated in their place.

-        Mostafavi (Ajudi) has escaped and is in hiding.

-        The apartment is situated such that it is impossible to figure out the layout of the interior from outside, which means the murderers had to be familiar with the apartment from the inside.

-        The murderers had to know exactly where each of the victims was sitting, in order to avoid wrong shots in a storming operation, such as the one carried out.

-        This is not a classic assassination and, rather, resembles assassinations carried out by security and  intelligence services.  In the classic model, the victim and the murderer meet each other for the first time not in a private home but in front of a hotel, in the airport, and so forth, whereas, in this case the murderer and the victim knew each other beforehand, and the murderers had managed to gain the trust of the victims.

-        And the eighth reason for Kessler is that, based on his information, Qasemlu and Qaderi had been negotiating with the delegation sent by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Based on this evidence, Mr. Oswald Kessler says:

“ ... the Kurds have been murdered, and the Islamic Republic of Iran officials have stayed alive.  For us, the issue is quite obvious.  The rest depends on the politicians.”  (Dastmalchi:  291-292)

Sahraroudi and Bozorgian (Darjazi) are separately interrogated by Austrian officials, the first in the hospital and the latter in the police station.  Sahraroudi says that, at the moment when the murderers entered the apartment, Bozorgian was in the bathroom.  And Bozorgian claims that, at the time of the shooting, he had gone to McDonalds and was not present in the building.  (Human Rights Documentation Center: 30).  The disparity between the witness statements of two of the members of the Iranian delegation, as well as the fact that the third one has run away and disappeared, has intensified suspicions that these individuals have indeed committed the murders.

Further investigations by the police strengthened the hypothesis that the murders were carried out by the negotiating delegation sent by the Islamic Republic of Iran:  “Analysis of the shooting determined that the assassins could not have fired at the Kurds from the doorway. The trajectory of the bullets indicated that they had been fired from the direction of the IRI delegation.  Furthermore, discarded shell casings were found where the IRI negotiators had been sitting and not near the doorway. Two automatic pistols equipped with silencers and a bloodstained windbreaker were eventually discovered in a garbage dump, along with the key to a Suzuki motorcycle. A bill of sale found with the key led the police to a salesman who identified Sahraroudi as having purchased the bike. Sahraroudi had used the pseudonym Mostafa Mostafavi for the transaction. The Austrian Public Prosecutor finally issued warrants for the arrest of Bozorgian, Sahraroudi, and Ajoudi on November 28, 1989, three months after they were escorted by the Austrian Police to the airport.”  It appears that Bozorgian left Austria on November 30, 1989. (Human Rights Documentation Center:  31)

A few months after Austrian Police released the suspected murderers of Dr. Qasemlu, Mr. Qaderi-Azar, and Mr. Fazel Rasul, the Austrian Public Prosecutor issued warrants for their (Bozorgian’s, Sahraroudi’s, and Ajudi’s) arrest on November 28, 1989.  In October 2013, Mohammad Jafari Sahraroudi went to Geneva for an international conference.  Despite the demands of the Kurdish and other political activists, the Swiss and Austrian governments made no special effort to have him arrested by Interpol or to act upon his warrant.  About the unwillingness of Austrian officials to pursue Qasemlu’s case judicially, a high-ranking Austrian official told Time Magazine:

“No country wants to prosecute a terrorist case.  [...]  A convicted terrorist faces a life sentence, which means, in Austria, at least 15 years. That means that, for 15 years, you are at risk [of terrorist attacks].”

Victims' Remarks

Regarding the victims’ reaction it is worth noting that Ms. Helen Krulich, Mr. Qasemlu’s widow, objected from the very beginning to the course of the investigations and the slow reaction of Austrian officials and later to the release of the suspects and their return to Iran.  Ms. Qasemlu filed suit against the Republic of Austria on 2 August 1991. “She accused the government of refraining from investigating the assassination of Dr. Qasemlu diligently and allowing the assassins to leave Austria safely. She alleged that the Austrian government wilfully barred the police authorities from investigating the case, because of pressure from the IRI and illegal arms deals between the state-owned Austrian enterprise “Voest” and the Iranian government during the Iran-Iraq war.  [...] The Austrian court dismissed the case without hearing evidence, ruling that Ms. Krulich had failed to make a prime facie case and that it lacked jurisdiction to hear a case against the IRI. This decision was confirmed by the Appellate Court of Vienna (Oberlandesgericht Wien) and dismissed [...].” (Human Rights Documentation Center:  32) Ms. Qasemlu wrote in her memoirs that the Austrian court had made her pay 80,000 shillings to cover court expenses.  Ms. Qasemlu had written, in response to the judiciary officials, that she preferred to go to prison as an insolvent debter than to pay a dime to a judiciary that supports state terrorism. Judiciary officials did not pursue the matter further.



* Sources:

-        Statements and documents by the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan in Persian and French:

                “Vie et mort d’Abdul Rahman Qasemlu : Homme de Pais et de Dialogue”: http://www.pdk-      iran.org/french/doc/kasemlu.htm

-        “A Glance at the Life and Struggles of Martyr Abdollah Qaderi”:

       “Negahi be Zendegi va Mobarezat e Shahid Abdollah Qaderi” in Kurdistan magazine, Issue 163

-        Memoirs of Helen Qasemlu (Krulich), widow of Abdol-Rahman Qasemlu: “A European Woman in the Land of the Kurds”:

            Hélène Krulich, Une Européenne au pays des kurdes, Karthala, 2011

-        Parviz Dastmalchi, Terror in the Name of God [Terror be name ‘Khoda’], First Edition, Summer 1392 (2013)

-        Iran Human Rights Documentation Center: “No Safe Hsven: Iran’s Global Assassination Campaign:        http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/publications/reports/3152-no-safe-haven-iran-s-global-assassination-campaign.html

-        Carol Prunhuber, “QĀSEMLU, ‘ABD-AL-RAḤMĀN”, in Encyclopaedia Iranica: http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/qasemlu

-        Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Sahifeye Nur (Collection of Writings and Speeches), Ministry of Islamic Guidence, Tehran, 1361 (1982),   Vols. 8 & 9

-        Keyhan, Ayandegan, and Ettela’at newspapers, Le Monde newspaper


** On August 16, 1945, Qazi Mohammad and 105 Kurdish elites published a statement in which they announced the establishment of the Democratic Party of Kurdistan to the public and listed the agenda and demands of the Party in 8 paragraphs: The first paragraph emphasizes freedom and the right to autonomy: “The Kurdish people of Iran must have freedom and autonomy in administering their own affairs, and they must have the right to be autonomous within the borders of Iran.”  The signatories of this statement based their claim to the right of autonomy on the Iranian Constitution.  As the third paragraph of the statement emphasizes: “The local government of Kurdistan must be immediately elected in accordance with the Constitutional Law (Constitution 1905) and oversee all social and governmental affairs (of the Kurdish regions).”  The next paragraphs referred to cultural, economic, and administrative rights of the people of Kurdistan.  Following a meeting with the Soviet Consulate in Tabriz and a trip to Baku to meet with Jafar Bagherof, the Prime Minister of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, in October 1945, Qazi Mohammad, the leader of the autonomist forces of Kurdistan, learned that the Democratic faction of Azerbaijan would soon implement a plan for an autonomous government in Eastern Azerbaijan (December 1945).  On January 22, 1946, the establishment of the Republic of Mahabad led by Qazi Mohammad was officially announced.  Once the Soviet forces left the North-Western regions of Iran, the Republic of Mahabad lost the military and economic supports of the Soviets and internal tensions among Kurdish forces made the Republic even more vulnerable.  On December 7, 1946, the Iranian army occupied Mahabad and the Republic of Mahabad fell after 11 months. Qazi Mohammad, his brother, and the Minister of War of the Republic of Mahabad were tried in a military court and hanged on March 31, 1947. The Democratic Party of Kurdistan was banned. In the 1950s, a new generation of Kurdish autonomist revived the Democratic Party of Kurdistan, which was closely connected to the pro-soviet Tudeh party of Iran. However In 1955, the Democratic Party of Kurdistan officially severed its organizational ties with the Tudeh party.  (Iranica:  Qāsemlu)  The 1953 Iranian Coup d’Etat in Iran, which reaffirmed the Shah’s dictatorship and was followed by intensified political pressure and suppression in Iran, led the autonomist Kurdish forces to relocate to Iraq. In 1973 the the Democratic Party of Kurdistan elected as its Secretary General Abdol-Rahman Qasemlu, a reformist who, with the help of his comrades, devised a modern and democratic agenda for the party and changed its name to the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI).  The Party's slogan became “Autonomy for Kurdistan and Democracy for Iran.” On March 3, 1979, after 32 years of clandestine activities, the PDKI started its public activities in Iran.  (Kayhan:  3 March 1979)

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