Iran hangs alleged Israeli agent in shadow war

Posted May 15, 2012, at 9:24 p.m.

TEHRAN, Iran — At the gallows, the condemned prisoner Tuesday repeated the allegations Iran lodged against him: That he was trained by Israel’s spy agency to carry out one of the first attack on Iranian scientists in a suspected shadow war against Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

“The end of the road has nothing except repentance — and rope,” Majid Jamali Fashi was quoted as saying just moments before he was hanged for the January 2010 bombing that killed Tehran University physics professor Masoud Ali Mohammadi.

The execution inside Tehran’s Evin Prison — and Iran’s state-sanctioned coverage of his purported last words — are connected to a world of alleged covert operations and assassination plots that have stretched from the Black Sea to Bangkok, and yet have somehow not disrupted efforts at nuclear talks between Iran and world powers, which are expected to resume next week in Baghdad.

At least four other members of Iran’s scientific community have been killed since the explosion of a bomb-rigged motorcycle that targeted Mohammadi. Iran has blamed Israel’s Mossad spy agency as well as the CIA and Britain’s MI-6. Washington and London have previously denied any roles.

In Jerusalem, Israel Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Tuesday the slayings “are not connected to us in any way.”

But Israel and others haves pointed the finger at Iran for alleged reprisal missions, including a February bombing in New Delhi that wounded an Israeli diplomat’s wife and the discovery of a cache of explosives in Bangkok that Thai officials claim was linked a plot to target Israeli diplomats. In Azerbaijan’s capital of Baku, security officials in March announced the arrest of 22 suspects allegedly hired by Iran for terrorist attacks against the U.S. and Israeli embassies and other Western-linked sites.

The intrigue, however, has remained on the margins as the U.S. and allies try to press ahead with negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. A first round last month in Istanbul produced no breakthroughs, but discussions are expected to intensify at the next session beginning May 23 between Iran and a six-nation group comprising the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany.

Possible bargaining could center on efforts to halt Iran’s enrichment of uranium at 20 percent levels, the highest-grade material announced by Tehran. Iran, in turn, has signaled it could urge the U.S. and Europe to ease some of the most painful new sanctions, including those hitting Iran’s oil exports and its access to international banking networks.

In Vienna, meanwhile, Iran and the U.N.’s nuclear agency held a second day of talks over suspicions that Tehran might have tested atomic arms technology at a military site. Iran denies the claims — as well as insisting it only seeks nuclear reactors for energy and medical research.

The morning of Jan. 12, 2010, signaled a potential shift in Iran’s nuclear standoff with the West. The scientist Mohammadi was leaving for work when a bomb-laden motorcycle was blown apart by apparent remote control, killing the 50-year-old researcher whose work on subatomic particles had no direct military applications.

The suspect, Fashi, was put on trial in August 2011 in proceedings that received full state media attention. Iranian TV broadcast what it said were his confessions in which he admitted that he was recruited by the Mossad and went to Israel for training as a paid assassin. Little else has been made public about the 24-year-old Fashi except that he was a member of the national team in the sport of pankration, which includes elements of boxing, wrestling and fighting.

He was sentenced to death for crimes of “defiance of God,” or using arms against Iran’s Islamic government, and spreading “corruption on the earth,” or damaging public security and order, according to the official IRNA news agency.

The scientist’s wife, Mansoureh Karami, was quoted by a website affiliated with Iranian state TV as saying Fashi and his supporters will now “face the wrath of God” after his hanging.

But Palmor, the Israel Foreign Ministry spokesman, noted that “the killing of innocent people comes as a sad and morbid habit” in Iran, which has one of the world’s highest execution rates.

Iran’s state-controlled media usually portrays the country as a victim of Israel-linked aggression in the attacks on nuclear figures.

In a ceremony in February to insert domestically made fuel rods at a Tehran research reactor, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke on national television next to photos of the five nuclear scientists and researchers killed since 2010. Nearby was a large portrait of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei holding the son of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a senior director of Iran’s main uranium enrichment facility, who was killed in January after a magnetic bomb tore through his car in Tehran.

Ahmadinejad lifted to his knee the daughter of nuclear electronics expert Darioush Rezaeinejad, who was fatally shot last year by two gunmen on motorcycles. Iran’s nuclear chief, Fereidoun Abbasi, embraced the girl. Abbasi was wounded in November 2010 twin bombings that killed nuclear scientist Majid Shahriari.

Murphy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writer Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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