- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 3, 2005

VIENNA, Austria — Iran’s newly elected president, already accused of taking American diplomats hostage 26 years ago, played a key role in the 1989 execution-style slayings of a Kurdish opposition leader and two associates in Vienna, an exiled Iranian dissident said yesterday.

Austria’s daily Der Standard quoted a prominent Austrian politician as saying authorities have “very convincing” evidence linking Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the attacks in Vienna, in which the Kurds were killed.

The reports follow recent accusations from some of the 52 Americans who were held hostage for 444 days in Iran beginning in 1979 that Mr. Ahmadinejad, a hard-line Islamist, was among the hostage-takers.

Neither Mr. Ahmadinejad nor his aides could be reached yesterday for comment on the claims about the Vienna killings, but the president-elect on Friday denied a role in the hostage-taking.

“It is not true,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said. “It is only rumors.”

Alireza Jafarzadeh, who runs Strategic Policy Consulting, a Washington-based think tank focusing on Iran and Iraq, said Mr. Ahmadinejad was a Revolutionary Guard commander who supplied the weapons used to gun down Iranian Kurdish politician Abdul-Rahman Ghassemlou and two colleagues on July 13, 1989, in Vienna.

Mr. Jafarzadeh is a former U.S. representative for the National Council of Resistance of Iran. The council is the political arm of the Mojahedin Khalq, a group that Washington and the European Union list as a terrorist organization.

Mr. Ghassemlou, the principal target, was secretary-general of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan. His delegation had been in Vienna for secret talks with envoys from the Tehran regime.

Mr. Jafarzadeh said his assessment was based on Iranian government sources “who have provided accurate information in the past.” He said Mr. Ahmadinejad helped organize the Vienna attack while serving in the Revolutionary Guard’s Ramazan garrison near the western Iranian city of Kermanshah.

“While he was there, he became involved in terrorist operations abroad, and he led many, many operations,” Mr. Jafarzadeh said.

In 2002, Mr. Jafarzadeh disclosed information about two hidden nuclear sites in Iran that helped uncover nearly two decades of secret atomic activity and stoked fears that Tehran was trying to build a nuclear bomb.

Der Standard reported yesterday that Peter Pilz, a top official with Austria’s Green Party, accused Mr. Ahmadinejad of traveling to Vienna a few days before the slayings to deliver the weapons to the Iranian commandos who carried out the killings. He said he wants a warrant issued for Mr. Ahmadinejad’s arrest

Mr. Pilz could not be reached for comment yesterday, and calls to Austria’s Interior Ministry and the nation’s federal counterterrorism agency went unanswered.

Mr. Pilz said an unidentified Iranian journalist living in France was contacted in 2001 by one of the reputed gunmen, described as a former revolutionary guard who has since died. The gunman’s account — which Mr. Pilz said strongly implicated Mr. Ahmadinejad — was turned over to Austria’s federal Office for Counterterrorism and Constitutional Protection.

In another development, a top Iranian former secret agent told the Associated Press in Tehran yesterday that the hostage-taker in a 1979 photograph that has come under intense scrutiny is not of Mr. Ahmadinejad, but a former militant who committed suicide in jail.

Saeed Hajjarian, a top adviser to departing President Mohammad Khatami, identified the man in the photo dating to the 1979 U.S. Embassy siege as Taqi Mohammadi.

Iran’s newly elected president has been accused of being a major participant in the taking of American hostages at the embassy.

Six former U.S. hostages who saw the president-elect in photos or on television said they believe Mr. Ahmadinejad was among the hostage-takers. One said he was interrogated by Mr. Ahmadinejad.

The White House said it was taking their statements seriously. President Bush said “many questions” were raised by the accusations.

International media have compared photos of Mr. Ahmadinejad, who won a presidential runoff election the week before last, with a black-and-white picture of one of the hostage-takers, a young man with a thin, bearded face and dark hair that sweeps down across his forehead.

But Mr. Hajjarian said they were not the same person.

“This man is Taqi Mohammadi, a militant who later turned into a dissident and committed suicide in jail,” he said, pointing to the 1979 photo.

Mr. Hajjarian’s comment follows statements by a number of the former Iranian students who carried out the U.S. Embassy seizure and held Americans hostage that Mr. Ahmadinejad had no role in the operation.

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