Iran’s Decade of Assassinations

1946 - 1955

Ebrahim Norouzi, MD & Arash Norouzi

The Mossadegh Project | January 13, 2011                    

Navab Safavi, radical Islamic leader Between 1946 and 1955, waves of assassination plots threatened numerous key figures in Iranian society. The majority of these crimes were carried out by Feda’ian Islam, a militant extremist group known for targeting those it deemed ‘enemies of Islam’. Led by a young seminary student named Navab Safavi, it also had the support of several religious figures. Among them: the politically influential Ayatollah Kashani, a collaborator in the 1953 coup, and the future leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ruhollah Khomeini, then only a mid-level cleric.

It was in this violent political environment that the Majles (Parliament) elected a new Prime Minister, Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh. Only two weeks into his position, Mossadegh informed a formal Majles session of a Feda’ian plot to kill him. For his safety, he would remain there starting that same day, May 13, 1951. After a short period, he transferred his office to his own residence, where he stayed for the rest of his premiership.

Though Feda’ian members were responsible for the majority of killings in this period, some were associated with multiple individuals or factions, forever clouding these cases in mystery. After the “Self-Sacrificers for Islam”, the murders were usually linked to the communist Tudeh party, elements connected to the royal court, individual politicians or members of the government. Some were also linked, directly or indirectly, to the foreign hands of Britain and America.

Plot by Persian Sect to Kill Mossadeq Many in the country were targeted for death; some survived, others did not. The chronology summarized here comprises the ten most significant attacks during a span of nearly 10 years — Iran’s decade of assassinations.

Target: Ahmad Kasravi
Date:    March 11, 1946
Result: Successful

Ahmad Kasravi

On March 11, 1946, Ahmad Kasravi, a highly accomplished author, historian, linguist and secular activist, was summoned to the court to be questioned regarding complaints from Islamic fundamentalists offended by his writings. There, in an extremely brazen act of violence, he and assistant were savagely murdered by Sayed Hossein Emami and an accomplice, both of whom belonged to the newly formed Feda’ian Islam. Emami, who told authorities his name was Abdullah Rastegar, was arrested but was soon set free, due mainly to mediation by religious figures.

Navab Safavi had been determined to eliminate Kasravi, shooting him personally in a previous attempt on his life.

The bodies of Ahmad Kasravi (right) and his assistant, Haddad-pour.

Ahmad Kasravi’s corpse title=

Target: Mohammad Masoud
Date:    February 12, 1948
Result: Successful

Mohammad Masoud

Mohammad Masoud, the talented journalist and owner of Mard-e-Emrouz newspaper, was gunned down on Feb 12th, 1948. Masoud’s vitriolic writings attacking the elites, the court, the army and the monarchy were legendary.

No clear culprit was identified, though some suspected the involvement of the royal court, especially the Shah’s sister Ashraf Pahlavi, as well as Muslim fanatics. Many years later, some Tudeh members said party leadership was also involved. 1

Target: Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi
Date:    February 4, 1949
Result: Unsuccessful

Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi

Iran’s monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, faced an assassination attempt during a ceremony at Tehran University on Feb 4th, 1949, but was only slightly wounded.

Four of the five bullets fired at the Shah missed, and assailant Nasser Fakhrara’ei, posing as a photographer, was instantly shot to death by officers on the scene. When a press card belonging to a newspaper run by Ayatollah Kashani’s son in law was discovered on his person, Kashani was arrested and exiled to Lebanon. Also blamed in the assault was the Tudeh, whose party was banned and leaders arrested. 2

The Shah’s radio address following the assassination attempt.

The Shah’s radio address following the assassination attempt

Target: Abdol-Hossein Hazhir
Date:    November 4th, 1949
Result: Successful

Abdol-Hossein Hazhir

Court minister and former Prime Minister Abdol-Hossein Hazhir was murdered by Sayed Hossein Emami on Nov 4th, 1949. Emami, a Feda’ian Islam cultist who had been Ahmad Kasravi’s assassin nearly four years earlier, was arrested and hanged in public. The government used the event as an opportunity to suppress opposition. It established military rule, arrested some members of the just established National Front (Jebhe Melli) and exiled its founder, Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, to his village of Ahmadabad. 2

Ironically, as a favor to the religious establishment, Hazhir had used his influence to save Emami from justice for murdering Kasravi in 1946. 3

Target: Ahmad Dehghan
Date:    May 27, 1950
Result: Successful

Ahmad Dehghan

Ahmad Dehghan worked variously — and often simultaneously — as an actor, theater owner, newspaper and magazine publisher, and Majles deputy. In May 1950, he was murdered by Tudeh party member Hassan Jafari. Some speculated that the killing was a joint venture between the Tudeh and General Ali Razmara. One month after the assassination, Razmara became Prime Minister.

Assassin Hassan Jafari was executed in April 1951.

Target: Ali Razmara
Date:    March 7, 1951
Result: Successful

Premier Ali Razmara

Prime Minister Ali Razmara was shot to death at a mosque on March 7, 1951. Khalil Tahmasebi, a carpenter and Feda’ian member, was the shooter, though some claim that Razmara was killed by an army sergeant, acting on the Shah’s instructions, when Tahmasebi missed his target. 4 5 There was widespread suspicion that the Shah and his confidant, Asadollah Alam, played a role in Razmara’s death. 1 Whatever the answer, the political wrangling of the time actually resulted in the pardoning of Tahmasebi.

The remains of Premier Ali Razmara.

Ali Razmara’s corpse

Ayatollah Kashani greets Razmara’s assassin, Khalil Tahmasebi, as a hero upon his release in December 1952.

Kashani and Tahmasebi, Razmara’s assassin

Target: Abdol-Hamid Zanganeh
Date:    March 19, 1951
Result: Successful

Abdol-Hamid Zanganeh

Only 12 days after the assassination of Razmara, his Minister of Education and Dean of Law school, Abdol-Hamid Zanganeh, was also gunned down.

The March 19, 1951 murder of Zanganeh, an unpopular political figure, was attributed to Feda’ian Islam, though Western press reports stated that the killer, Nosratollah Ghumi, was a student of Zanganeh’s whom he had recently caught cheating. The incident prompted the Shah to institute martial law and a March 20th curfew in Tehran, according to reports.

Target: Dr. Hossein Fatemi
Date:    February 16, 1952
Result: Unsuccessful

Hossein Fatemi

On February 16, 1952, while attending the anniversary of his assassinated journalist friend Mohammad Masoud, Dr. Hossein Fatemi, Mossadegh’s loyal Foreign Minister, himself became the target of an assassination attempt.

The assailant, Mehdi Abdi-Khodaei, was a teenage Feda’ian Islam recruit with a 4th grade education. Dr. Fatemi suffered extensive abdominal damage and underwent emergency surgery. Although he survived, he spent nearly a year in the hospital and never fully recovered.

Fatemi (2nd from right), moments before teenage shooter fires point blank into his abdomen.

Fatemi’s would-be assassin

February 17, 1952 press article.

The Bullet Was Meant For Mossadeq

Target: Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh
Date:    February 28, 1953
Result: Unsuccessful

Mohammad Mossadegh

On February 28th, 1953, Premier Mohammad Mossadegh went to see the Shah at his private palace, prior to the Shah’s trip to Europe, ostensibly for medical treatment. Shortly after his arrival, Mossadegh received a message that American ambassador Loy Henderson had requested an urgent meeting with him, cutting his visit short. As Mossadegh left for home, he heard a hostile crowd outside, shouting slogans accusing him of forcing the Shah to leave the country. He managed to slip away through a small gate that opened to an adjacent building and to another street. When he met with Henderson that afternoon, Mossadegh was astounded to discover that he had no important matter to discuss.

Later, the agitated mob, headed by notorious thug Shaban Jafari, moved to Mossadegh’s home and began to attack it. One knife-wielding malcontent climbed a tree and tried to break in, shouting of his intention to kill Dr. Mossadegh. Jafari, who had close ties to Kashani, overtook an army medical jeep and rammed it into the house gate, but was still unable to break through. Though security forces defending the residence were positioned to shoot if anyone entered the premises, Mossadegh decided to escape by climbing a ladder over the wall to the adjacent property, which he also owned, and then to army headquarters.

The plot against Mossadegh, which came to be known as No’he Esfand (9th of the month in Persian calendar), included members of the royal court, disgruntled army generals, and clerics such as Ayatollah Kashani and Behbehani. Loy Henderson’s bizarre behavior that day, as well, caused Mossadegh to suspect him of conspiring to kill him. 6

A previous threat, described in a Jan. 10, 1952 press article.

The Bullet Was Meant For Mossadeq

Target: Mahmoud Afshartus
Date:    April 19, 1953
Result: Successful

Mahmoud Afshartus

In mid April 1953, Mossadegh’s loyal police chief, Brigadier Mahmoud Afshartus, was found to be missing without any trace. Several days later, his body was discovered in a cave outside Tehran, tortured and brutally murdered. Four retired high ranking army officers were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy in his kidnapping. Also implicated were Dr. Mozaffar Bagha’i, a former supporter of Mossadegh, Gen. Fazlollah Zahedi and three of Zahedi’s relatives. The British secret intelligence MI6 was also implicated, at least through their agents, the Rashidian brothers.

The murder of Afshartus deprived Mossadegh of an irreplaceable, loyal supporter in the armed forces. Under the protection of Kashani, Zahedi received shelter in the Majles and Baghai, who had a definite role in kidnapping and murder of Afshartous, was apparently never tried.

Body of Afshartus recovered.

Body of Afshartus recovered.

Target: Hossein Ala
Date:     November 17, 1955
Result: Unsuccessful

Hossein Ala

On November 17, 1955, yet another member of Feda’ian Islam, Mozaffar-Ali Zolghadr, attempted to take the life of Hossein Ala, the Shah’s Court Minister.

Ala, a former Foreign Minister and briefly, successor to the assassinated Premier Razmara, survived the ordeal with only a head wound, sustained when the gunman threw his weapon at him after missing his target. Zolghadr was immediately arrested.

Terrorist leader Navab Safavi, captured November 27, 1955.

Navab Safavi captured

Tahmasebi prays before being executed, Safavi prepared for firing squad.

Khalil Tahmasebi prays before being executed

The attempt on Ala’s life was not the last of its kind, yet it marked the end of Fedai’ian’s major reign of terror. Navab Safavi, barely 32 years old, along with some of his followers were rounded up and put on trial. Zolghadr, Safavi, Khalil Tahmasebi, and another member, Sayed Mohammad Vahedi, were condemned to death in a military court. On January 18, 1956, all were executed by firing squad.

The Feda’ian’s influence, however, lived on. Decades later, the Islamic Republic of Iran would honor Navab Safavi by naming a metro station and a Tehran expressway after him, in addition to memorializing him on postage stamps and public murals. Other Feda’ian terrorists would later join Khomeini’s new Islamic government. Mehdi Abdi-Khodaei, who served as a deputy in the first Majles following the 1979 revolution, had attempted to kill Foreign Minister Hossein Fatemi as a teenager. Feda’ian Islam had, of course, also intended to eliminate Mossadegh, but had to settle for supporting the coup against him in 1953.

After the coup, Dr. Mossadegh narrowly avoided execution by the coup regime, yet his young Foreign Minister, Hossein Fatemi was not so lucky. In 1954, he was brutally beaten, stabbed and finally killed by the Shah’s firing squad. As Fatemi was reported to have remarked after the coup, during Mossadegh’s 28-month government, not a single person was incarcerated, harmed or killed for political reasons at their behest.


1 Fakhreddin Azimi, Iran: The Crisis of Democracy, pg. 186-7
2 AZADI Quarterly Review, # 26 & 27 - Summer & Autumn 2001
3 Stephen Kinzer, All the Shah’s Men
4 Homa Katouzian, Musaddiq and the Struggle for Power in Iran, pg. 84
5 Mostafa Elm, Oil Power and Principle, p. 80
6 Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, Memoirs


Related links:

MOSSADEGH, Islam and Ayatollahs - The Rise of Fundamentalism in Iran

MOSSADEGH...My Childhood Memory - by Ebrahim Norouzi, MD

How the CIA Used ‘anti-Communism’ to destroy Iran’s Democracy

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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