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Iran's hardline conservative opposition has long been suspected of scheming to halt the country's nascent democracy movement. A recent videotaped confession of a hardline militant appears to confirm the existence of a conspiracy among conservative elements in Iran aimed at upholding the old order.
In explosive testimony videotaped by two reformist lawyers, hardline militant Farshad Ebrahimi describes a cabal of hardliners working together to assassinate leading reformists and foment political and economic instability in an attempt undermine the country's budding reformist movement. The hardline group includes senior clerics, bazaar merchants, military officials, judges, intelligence agents, and club-wielding thugs, according to Ebrahimi's testimony.
The videotape, which has been widely distributed in political circles in Tehran, sheds light on the operations of the country's shadowy hardline fringe, raising concern about how the so-called "mafia squad" acts with apparent immunity.
More importantly, Ebrahimi is the first insider to speak out about the activities of the Ansar-e-Hezbollah, a group that regularly sends thugs to assault pro-democracy student protestors and leading reformists. The Ansar, which has close links to senior conservative clerics, was one of the few remaining hardline groups that had yet to be exposed by the country's increasingly strident media. Reformists dread Ansar and rarely attack the group for fear of violent retribution.
Ebrahimi, a former member of Ansar, implicated the group as being involved in two failed assassination attempts on pro-democracy cleric Abdollah Nouri, as well as being responsible for a campaign to intimidate supporters of reformist President Mohammad Khatami with death threats and street attacks.
Ebrahimi's testimony serves as the latest battleground in the ongoing conservative-reformist political power struggle. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Iran's conservatives, who still control key levers of power, have resisted reformist President Mohammad Khatami's sweeping calls for political and social liberalization. Khatami and a growing and active group of reformist journalists, politicians, clerics, and students have battled conservative foes in the courts, the Parliament, religious seminaries, college campuses, and in the newspapers for more than three years.
In Ebrahimi's testimony, he recounts meetings with senior hardline clerics in which they endorsed spilling the blood of Iranian secular dissidents. A few months later, several of the dissidents mentioned at that meeting were killed. He describes members' frustration with President Khatami, whom they viewed as "a betrayer of the Islamic revolution." In one meeting, a hardline cleric, Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, encouraged the Hezbollah militants to kill pro-democracy cleric and key Khatami aide Abdollah Nouri.
In the videotape, Ebrahimi asserts that the Ansar took orders from above, mainly from senior hardline clerics. It is unclear from the testimony, however, if Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, widely seen as a conservative, can be linked with Ansar's activities. At one point, Ebrahimi notes that he and a group of Ansar members met with Khamenei. In that meeting, Khamenei complained of the violence perpetrated by the Ansar. Ebrahimi also described the background for the Ansar attack on Tehran University's student dormitory in the summer of 1999 after a pro-democracy student protest.
"Everything had been arranged with the forces at police intelligence," a transcript of the videotape quoted Ebrahimi as saying. The July 1999 attack on the student dormitory at Tehran University that left one student dead and scores injured. "The plan was to bring the students out of the dormitories and our members would start the brawl and attack the dormitories and create a scene.
Afshin Molavi is a journalist based
in Tehran, Iran. His work has appeared in the Washington Post.