The Iranian clergyman who could help the police with their inquiries

Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, the man named in connection with the Lockerbie bombing, was a confidant of the late Ayatollah Khomeini and one of the key Iranian clergymen responsible for a decade of anti-Western violence in the Middle East. Fallen from pow er, henow lives quietly in a Tehran suburb.

As Iranian ambassador to Syria from 1981 to 1985, he was instrumental in funding, arming and organising Hizbollah, the Islamic fundamentalist militia in Lebanon. Intelligence agencies investigating the 1983 suicide car bombings against US and French troops in Beirut concluded that the Iranian embassy in Damascus played a critical role in the operation.

I met Mohtashemi at the time, a quiet-spoken, courtly individual who made much of his clerical status and spoke Farsi and Arabic in a refined and diplomatic style. Only when talking of America or Israel did his serenity seem to desert him.

Mohtashemi and his staff were also building close alliances at this time with radical Palestinian groups, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command, which was later suspected of involvement in the Lockerbie bombing.

Syrian officials paid deference to Mohtashemi's radical sentiments but privately detested the Iranians, with whom they maintained a pragmatic alliance against US policy in Lebanon.

It was shortly afterwards that Mohtashemi himself became a victim of terrorism, when he opened a parcel in the embassy which exploded, blowing off one hand, several fingers and an ear. He left Syria, to the evident relief of his hosts, and returned to take up the post of Interior Minister in Iran.

He then became the most important Iranian official connected to Hizbollah, which staged a series of kidnappings and murders of Western hostages in Lebanon from 1985 to 1991. He was regarded by Washington as the man with greatest influence over the most violent pro-Iranian factions in Lebanon, a skilful clerical politician who employed the security services at his disposal to operate an extremist parallel foreign policy.

The Lockerbie bombing, which followed the downing of an Iranian civil airliner by the US Navy, was regarded by Islamic radicals as a classic operation. In the search for easy solutions that "blamed" Iran, Libya or Syria, Western analysts tended to neglect the simple fact that Mohtashemi and his allies had constructed a network of radical activists which transcended national borders, although it depended upon state support.

Mohtashemi lost the Interior Ministry in 1989 when President Rafsanjani took over, purged many of the radicals, solidified the peace with Iraq and wound down support for extremist groups abroad. Since then, he has contributed to Iran's thriving hardline newspapers, voiced criticism of Rafsanjani's policies in parliament and done his best to keep alive the flame of Khomeini's messianic ideology.

Michael Sheridan

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

    Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

    £20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

    £16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

    Day In a Page

    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
    UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

    39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

    There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
    Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

    Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

    The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
    10 best barbecue books

    Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

    We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
    Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

    No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

    Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

    Something wicked?

    Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
    10 best sun creams for body

    10 best sun creams for body

    Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

    Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
    Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

    There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

    The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed