Ex-Iranian Premier Killed; Exiles Blame Tehran Hit Squad
PARIS (AP) _ The Shah of Iran’s last prime minister was found stabbed to death at his home outside Paris on Thursday, and Iranian exiles claimed the slaying was the work of a hit squad from Tehran.
Shahpour Bakhtiar, 76, and his top aide, Fouroush Katibeh, were discovered by Bakhtiar’s son at the well-guarded home in Suresnes, west of Paris. They were killed sometime Wednesday night or Thursday morning, police said.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility, and it was unclear how an assailant could have entered the residence, which is guarded around the clock by four policemen. There were no signs of forced entry or a struggle.
Police said they were searching for three Iranians who visited Bakhtiar Tuesday afternoon. Papers checked by guards showed they lived in France, police said.
Iranian exiles immediately claimed the killings were carried out by Iran in retaliation for Bakhtiar’s staunch criticism of the radical regime that came to power - led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini - after the 1979 revolution.
Bakhtiar’s murder ″was ordered by the mullahs″ of Iran, said former Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr.
″Three or four days ago I received a list of oppositionists that the regime had decided to suppress ... and among them was Shahpour Bakhtiar,″ said Bani-Sadr, who also lives in exile near Paris. ″I received information saying that this time it was very serious, and that the mullahs in power had decided to suppress me (as well).″
″There is no doubt that this was commited by a death squad from the Khomeini regime,″ said Afchine Alavi, secretary general of the People’s Mujaheddin, an Iranian exile group.
Ali Chakeri, president of an opposition group founded by Bakhtiar, said Iranian President Ali Akbar Rafsanjani ordered Bakhtiar’s assassination.
″Shahpour Bakhtiar was the only one to speak out that the Iranian regime has not changed its nature″ under Rafsanjani, said Chakeri, who heads the Executive Committee of the Movement of National Resistance.
An attempt was made on Bakhtiar’s life 11 years ago, when armed men posing as journalists entered his house and tried to shoot their way to the ex- premier. They failed, but a policeman and a neighbor were killed and three policemen were wounded.
Anis Naccache, a Lebanese national and convicted leader of a pro-Iranian terror squad, was convicted of leading the five-member hit squad. He was released from prison in 1989 in exchange for three French hostages released from Lebanon.
It was not known if Bakhtiar had received death threats recently, but neighbors said the police guard around his house had been increased this week.
In Tehran, official radio made a simple announcement of Bakhtiar’s death, saying he had been killed in Paris.
The French Foreign Ministry condemned the killing and said it expected an investigation would ″shed all light″ on the attack. The Interior Ministry ordered tight controls at all border points.
Prime Minister Edith Cresson called the murders a ″cowardly attack.″
Apparently seeking to shift blame from Iran, Tehran’s U.N. ambassador, Kamal Kharazi, said in New York that he saw a connection between the assassination and the release of British hostage John McCarthy in Beirut.
″I believe it’s a suspicious issue that these two phenomenon are coinciding, and I don’t know who has done (the assassination) and what is behind it,″ Kharazi told CNN. He did not elaborate.
Bani-Sadr also claimed there was a link between Bakhtiar’s murder and the release of McCarthy. ″It was to cover up the assassination that they freed the hostage,″ he said.
Bakhtiar served in office only 38 days before escaping to France when Shah Reza Pahlavi was toppled by Shiite Muslim fundamentalists in February 1979.
Bakhtiar in 1981 founded the National Resistance Movement, an opposition- in-exile group opposed to the revolutionary government.
In April, a close associate of Bakhtiar was stabbed to death in Paris. Abdel Rahman Boroumand, 63, a leading Iranian dissident, was murdered at his home about an hour after meeting with Bakhtiar, who blamed Iranian forces for the killing.
Bakhtiar was married to a Frenchwoman.
Before his death in June 1989, Khomeini issued a death sentence on Iranian- born writer Salman Rushdie for his novel, ″The Satanic Verses,″ which Khomeini claimed blasphemed Islam.