Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Iran: Hardline Iranian students offer more than $1 million for the assassination of three Israeli security officials

A group of hard-line Iranian students has offered rewards totaling more than $1 million for the assassination of three Israeli security officials, following recent military strikes by Israel in Gaza.

The bounties were announced by the Justice-Seeking Student Movement, a hard-line group with indirect ties to President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, at a gathering in a government building in Tehran.

They seek the assassination of Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Mossad spy agency director Meir Dagan, and military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin.

Radio Farda reports that the Justice-Seeking Student Movement is said to be under the strong influence of Hasan Rahimpur Azghadi, a right-wing strategist and political analyst for the Council for Spreading the Thoughts Of President Ahmadinejad.

Since his election in 2005, Ahmadinejad has repeatedly questioned the extent of the Holocaust and has suggested that Israel would be "wiped off the map."

Ahmadinejad's political allies face national elections on March 14 that provide a test of support for the president, whose economic policies and stiff confrontational rhetoric have come under intense criticism among pragmatics and reformists.

At its gathering on March 9, the movement announced rewards to individuals or relatives of anyone who succeeded in killing Barak, Dagan, and Yadlin. It set the bounties at $400,000 for Barak and $300,000 each for Dagan and Yadlin. The group has appealed to Iranians to donate kidneys to raise funding for the bounties.

Hamid Abedini, a student activist from Tehran University, said the movement is perceived as reflecting views within at least some quarters of Ahmadinejad's administration.

"The Justice-Seeking Student Movement is a flag, a title which unifies all forces that support the government," Abedini said.

The movement said it announced the bounties in reaction to Israel's recent military raids in Gaza, which began in late February following rocket attacks on Israel by Palestinian militants. The Israeli strikes have killed more than 100 Palestinians. Four Israeli soldiers and one civilian have died.

The movement claimed to have begun its activities in the cities of Mashhad and Tehran in the late 1970s. It also said it had increased its activities since former Tehran Mayor Ahmadinejad rose to national prominence. It is also connected to the Martyrs' Commemoration Headquarters, a radical organization that helped establish a monument in Tehran to Hizballah mastermind Imad Mugniyah, who is accused of killing hundreds of U.S. Marines in suicide bombings in Lebanon in the 1980s and is commemorated in an Iranian stamp.

Radio Farda contacted Morteza Firuzabadi, the organizer of the March 9 gathering at which the bounties were announced, declined Radio Farda's request for an interview. "We do not give interviews to Radio Farda, as your [owners] are quite different than ours," he said. (Radio Farda is a joint operation of RFE/RL and Vocie of America that broadcasts in Persian from Washington and Prague.)

Influencing The Public?

Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor of political science at Tehran University, said the government has never officially recognized groups "like the Justice-Seeking Student Movement."

He added that he thought such organizations should be banned.

"When a group of women gather in the streets to collect signatures in support of women's rights, they get arrested for threatening national security," Zibakalam said. "But amazingly, when there are other gatherings in which groups openly act against the interests of the country, the system doesn't react at all."

Some say the group's activities, including apparent recruiting of suicide bombers, amount to little more than political theater.

The group has hung posters around universities, but Abedini said his fellow students don't take it too seriously. "I saw the poster of the group at the university, but it will not affect students' general opinion," Abedini said. "Usually, students don't welcome this kind of stuff. They consider it part of the official government agenda."

Original article: Hard-Line Students Announce Bounty On Israeli Leaders' Heads
By: Mohammad Zarghami

Copyright (c) 2008. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.