- The Washington Times - Monday, January 7, 2002

On July 22, 1980, David Belfield, a former Howard University student posing as a mailman, walked up to Ali Akbar Tabatabai, a former Iranian diplomat who had served under Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi, and shot him to death as he stood on the doorstep of his Bethesda home. U.S. law enforcement officials say that after the killing, Belfield, who had recently converted to Islam, fled to Iran, where the Ayatollah Khomeini's brutal regime gave him refuge. In a 1996 interview broadcast by ABC, Belfield, who had taken the name Daoud Salahuddin, confessed to the murder and brazenly said that Tabatabai (who had been perhaps the most eloquent U.S.-based critic of Khomeinism) deserved to die. "All governments kill traitors, and all governments, if they can, kill people who are making strong attempts to overthrow them," said Belfield. Asked if he regretted his action, Belfield replied that "no, I never lost any sleep over that incident."

In fact, it appears that Belfield has done very well for himself since moving to Iran two decades ago. As Joyce Howard Price first reported in The Washington Times Dec. 20, Belfield may have metamorphosed into an internationally renowned actor who calls himself "Hassan Tantai." If the name sounds familiar, it may be because Mr. Tantai is listed as the star of a popular Iranian-made movie called "Kandahar." M. R. Tabatabai, the twin brother of the slain diplomat, concluded that, after viewing Mr. Tantai's performance in "Kandahar," Mr. Tantai is actually Belfield. Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas Gansler, whose office stands ready to prosecute Belfield for killing Ali Akbar Tabatabai, said in an interview Thursday with The Washington Times that Belfield and Mr. Tantai are the same man. "It's crystal clear that the actor listed in the credits and the assassin, terrorist and fugitive David Belfield are one and the same," Mr. Gansler said. "At this point, they [Iranian officials] are knowingly harboring a terrorist."

M. R. Tabatabai also accuses Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who wrote and directed "Kandahar," of complicity with the Iranian government in concealing Mr. Tantai's true identity. Based on what is known about the police state that Iran is, "there is no way Mr. Makhmalbaf wouldn't have known" who Mr. Tantai really was, he said. But Mr. Makhmalbaf and Robin Lim, president of Avatar Films, the distributor of "Kandahar," profess not to know for sure that Mr. Tantai is a killer.

In fact, at the highest levels of government, the Islamic extremists who seized power in Iran in 1979 have never hesitated to employ murder and terrorism as foreign policy tools. In 1997, for example, a German court convicted four Iranian intelligence agents in connection with the murders of four Kurdish dissidents. The latter were gunned down on Sept. 17, 1992, at the Mykonos restaurant in Berlin. The presiding judge in the case stated that the orders for the killings came from "the highest state levels" and were implemented by Iranian intelligence boss Ali Falliahan. The critical testimony in the case came from Abolhassem Mesbahi, an Iranian official who defected to Germany. Mr. Mesbahi, who had served as an aide to President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, described in great detail how assassination targets were decided on by a state-controlled entity called the Committee for Secret Operations, and that orders to kill someone required the signatures of Mr. Rafsanjani and Iran's supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

A group of conspirators, one an Iranian government official convicted in absentia, were found guilty by a French court in the 1991 murder of former Iranian Prime Minister Shahpour Bakhtiar in a Paris suburb: Bakhtiar and an aide were stabbed to death with a kitchen knife. Time magazine reported that a Turkish militant, acting on orders from Tehran, kidnapped Iranian dissidents on Turkish soil and turned them over to Iranian intelligence, which killed them. Tehran is also a leading state supporter of Hamas and Hezbollah, two of the deadliest terrorist groups in the world. It should therefore come as no surprise that Tehran may be harboring Tabatabai's killer. All of this could create an uncomfortable political situation for the Bush administration, where the State Department has assiduously tried to enlist Iran in the current war on terror. Indeed, President Bush himself has requested a screening of "Kandahar," which is widely viewed as an accurate depiction of the former Taliban dictatorship in Afghanistan. As he watches the film, however, Mr. Bush must keep in mind that the regime in Tehran is itself cruel and vicious. If Mr. Gansler is correct as to "Mr. Tantai's" true identity, then the film's message about Iran is at least as compelling as its message about the Taliban.

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