July 17, 2011
Terror and Terrorists: Dr. Ghassemlou’s Murder
On July 14, 1989 the French people celebrated the bicentennial of the French Revolution. As the French were celebrating their revolution two centuries later, the people in Kurdistan and Iran were preparing for the most tragic event in their history. July 13, 1989 is an appalling date for the people of Iran and Kurdistan; Dr. Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou who was preparing to celebrate the ideals of the French Revolution was killed in Vienna, Austria along with his aides on the supposed negotiation table with the mercenaries of the Islamist regime in Iran who happened to hijack his Revolution in Iran a decade earlier.
The murder of this exceptional Kurdish-Iranian opposition leader, in which the regime’s current President, a former Guard commander, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s name has been dragged, is still shrouded in mystery more than two decades on; justice aside, tragically, the world community is still struggling to define the acts that Dr. Ghassemlou and countless other brave Iranian have fell victim to, namely terror, terrorist and terrorism.
Terrorism is not legally defined in all jurisdictions and there is no universally agreed, legally binding, criminal law definition of terrorism. Common definitions of terrorism refer only to those violent acts which are intended to create fear (terror), are perpetrated for a religious, political or ideological goal.
Here, I refrain from going to the roots of terrorism or why state and non-state actors resort to acts of terror to achieve certain objectives; however it is necessary to briefly define various attributes to the concept of ‘terrorism’ and then define terrorism in relation to the regime of Islamic Republic, and finally illustrate whether Dr. Ghassemlou’s assassination would fit into a typical definition of an act of terror.
To begin, we need to distinguish three terms as related to terrorism; the word ‘terrorism’, state terrorism and state-sponsored terrorism. The Encyclopeia Britannica defines terrorism generally as “the systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective”,
Following terrorist bombings in the US, Britain, Spain, Egypt throughout the last decade prompted the United Nations to search for a mutually agreeable definition of “terrorism” and the draft declaration in 2005 only offered political, not a legal definition. “We (the world leaders) affirm that the targeting and deliberate killing of civilians and non-combatants cannot be justified or legitimised by any cause or grievance, and we declare that any action intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants, when the purpose of such an act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population or to compel a government or an international organisation to carry out or to abstain from any act, cannot be justified on any grounds, and constitutes an act of terrorism.”
State-sponsored terrorism is a term used to describe terrorism sponsored by nation-states. As with terrorism, the precise definition, and the identification of particular examples, are subjects of heated political dispute. In general state-sponsored terrorism is associated with paramilitary and organizations resorting to terror for their political or ideological aims with the sponsorship of state actors.
However, State terrorism may refer to acts of terrorism conducted by a state against a foreign state or people. It can also refer to widespread acts of violence by a state against its own people.
The encyclopedia adds that “establishment terrorism, often called state or state-sponsored terrorism, is employed by governments — or more often by factions within governments — against that government’s citizens, against factions within the government, or against foreign governments or groups.”
The Islamic Republic of Iran and Terrorism
Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran has been one of the world’s most terrorism harbouring state. Tehran has armed, trained, financed, inspired, organized, and otherwise supported dozens of violent groups over the years. Exporting the Iranian style Islamist form of governing around the world has been a leading foreign policy goal for the clerical regime in Iran, an ambition that led Tehran to work with a range of radicals around the world. Iran has backed not only groups in its Gulf neighborhood, but also terrorists and radicals in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Bosnia, the Philippines, and elsewhere. This support not only remains strong even today but also it has extended to newly liberated countries of Iraq and Afghanistan in the delicate process of state formation and steady democratic progress. The Aytollah’s sponsorship of terrorism is utmost point of concern to the international community, and sadly, when they refer to Iran as a terrorist state, only Iran’s sponsorship of terror outside its borders irritates them the most.
On the other hand, the regime in Iran, since its inception, has adopted a policy of terror, fear and intimidation against its people and opponents. The Iranian regime has used its paramilitaries, Basij force and Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) to crush and eliminate its opponents across the country and beyond its borders. The regime and its repressive forces have engaged in the most vicious campaign of terrorization, which by all accounts has been unprecedented in the last three decades.
Islamic Republic of Iran: a terrorism sponsoring state
Iran initially began supporting radical groups, including many that embraced terrorism, after the 1979 Islamic revolution and quickly became the world’s leading state supporter of terrorism. Exporting the revolution was a leading foreign policy goal, an aspiration that led the regime to work with a range of radicals around the world. The clerical regime in Tehran viewed supporting revolutions overseas as part of its revolutionary duty. The theological justifications for the Iranian revolution espoused by the clerics emphasized the spread of Islam regardless of state boundaries.
In its chapter on state sponsors of terrorism, the State Department lists Iran as the most active state sponsor of terrorism: “Its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) were directly involved in the planning and support of terrorist acts and continued to exhort a variety of groups, especially Palestinian groups with leadership cadres in Syria and Lebanese Hizballah, to use terrorism in pursuit of their goals. In addition, the IRGC was increasingly involved in supplying lethal assistance to Iraqi militant groups, which destabilizes Iraq.”
According to a Canadian proposal for enlisting IRGC as a terrorist entity in Canada “Defining the IRGC as a “branch of the armed forces” of another country is a misnomer. The IRGC is more like Hizbullah or Hamas, which are ideologically-based organizations that develop military, business, social and cultural capacities to advance their agenda. The military aspect is just one dimension of a unique ideological mandate that is virtually borderless, allowing the IRGC a multitude of political, cultural, economic as well as military functions.”
Amid growing concerns of expanding IRGC and its affiliated organizations’ presence and influence in the region and the spread of terrorist activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US States Department listed IRGC as a terrorist entity in October of 2007. The Treasury Department also designated the IRGC extraterritorial branch, the Quds Force for providing material support to the Taliban and other terrorist organizations.
Islamic Republic of Iran: a terrorist state
“State terrorism” is as controversial a concept as that of terrorism itself. When it first entered political discourse, the word “terrorism” was used in reference to the reign of terror imposed by the Jacobin regime–that is, to describe a case of state terrorism. There are also quite a few historical studies of some other instances of state terrorism, most notably of the period of “the Great Terror” in the Soviet Union. In a contemporary setting however, state terrorism is apparently much more difficult to discern. Discussions of terrorism in social sciences and philosophy tend to focus on non-state and, more often than not, anti-state terrorism. In common parlance and in the media, terrorism is as a rule assumed to be an activity of non-state agencies in virtue of the very meaning of the word.
Referring to “state terrorism” in a United Nations convention in 2005, it was stated that the behaviour of states was already heavily circumscribed by conventions governing the use of force, such as the Geneva conventions; therefore the term “terrorism” must not be equally applied to state and non-state actors. In another word, “state terrorism” or a “terrorist state” is not a ‘politically correct’ term in the United Nations literature, and states who commit acts of terror against their own population or the population of another country, as in the case of the current regime in Iran, can not be legally dealt with outside the Geneva Convention.
One of the characteristics of terrorism –targeting innocent civilians– stands out in efforts to distinguish state terrorism from other forms of state violence. However, we have witnessed in modern history authoritarian states systematically committed to using violence and extreme versions of threat against their own civilians exemplify the premise of state terrorism. Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union under Stalin’s rule are frequently cited as historical cases of state terrorism.
Since the 1979, when the Islamist state was formed in Iran, the most brutal application of force and intimidation against the civilian population has been exhorted, and thanks to modern technology a glimpse of that state brutality and barbarity against civilians was displayed after the 2009 staged presidential elections.
According to Amnesty International starting in August 1988 and continuing until shortly before the tenth anniversary of the Islamic revolution in February 1989, the Iranian authorities carried out massive wave of executions of political prisoners – the largest since those carried out in the first and second year after the Iranian revolution in 1979. In all between 4,500 and 5,000 prisoners are believed to have been killed, including women.
Quite contrary to the current Iranian President’s assertion that “Iran does commit terror, but Iran is victims of terror,” the Iranian Islamic regime has used the Ministry of Intelligence and Security to gather intelligence to plan terrorist attacks inside and outside Iran against dissidents and adversaries. The ministry is believed to use liaison activities with supported terrorist groups and Islamic fundamentalist movements. According to accounts, especially the highly charged Mykonos affair, the ministry itself is believed to have carried out some terrorist acts mostly directed at political dissidents, where in its 10 April 1997 ruling, the German court issued an international arrest warrant for Iranian intelligence minister Ali Fallahian after declaring that the assassination had been ordered by him with knowledge of supreme leader Ali Khamenei and then the president Hashemi Rafsanjani. In addition, nineteen of Ahmadinejad’s ministers were commanders of notorious IRGC, a newly listed terrorist entity.
From 1979 to 1992 the Islamic state in Iran carried out terrorist activities through political assassinations against high level dissident targets totalling more than 150 extrajudicial killings in countries around the world including the killing of Dr. Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou and two of his aides in 1989 in Vienna, Austria. More than 300 members of various Kurdish and non-Kurdish Iranian dissident groups were randomly killed in Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey from 1992 to 1997 by the agents of IRGC and the Intelligence Ministry. The serial murders of the period of 1988-1998 that resulted in the disappearance and murder of more than 80 writers, political activists and ordinary citizens was also carried out the Intelligence Ministry.
Ghassemlou’s murder an act of state terror
The Iranian high official leaders including the supreme leader has had a history of ordering the assassination of opposition figures. “According to reliable sources, Khamenei gave his personal approval on the assassination of writers and journalists who opposed the regime. This applies to all political assassinations in Iran.” Bani Sadr, the first post-revolution Iran President claims.
Dr. Ghassemlou’s Murder in 1989 clearly proved Iran’s stature as both a terrorist state and a terrorist sponsoring state. Dr. Ghassemlou’s assassination, like other targets of Iranian state terror, in particular his successor, Dr. Sharafkandi was carried out by the collaboration of terrorist organizations like Hizbullah through intermediaries such as Imad Mughnieh who is also recently indicted in the assassination of renowned Lebanese politician Rafik Hariri with the direct order from the regime supreme leader, Khamanie.
German authorities have also said Dr. Ghassemlou’s murder, as well as the assassination of his successor Dr. Sadegh Sharafkandi in Berlin in 1992, had been ordered by top Iranian officials.
In a piece in Liberation Marc Kravetz affirmed that “Ghassemlou’s death warrant was signed as early as 1979, when he was elected as the only self-confessed secularist in Iran’s “constituent” assembly… July 13th 1989, the day when Muslims celebrated the Id al-Kabir or “feast of pardon”, was also observed by Shiites as the 40th day of mourning for the [death of] Imam [Khomeni]. Was that only a coincidence? Or did the murderers, disguised as peace envoys with an official mandate from [former Iranian president] Hashemi-Rafsanjani and passports signed by [former Foreign Minister] Velayati, come from Tehran deliberately to carry out the sentence on that ritual day?”
In Summary, considering all the vague and open-ended definitions of terrorism, the assassination of Dr. A. R. Ghassemlou and his aides by the mercenaries of the clerical regime in Iran on negotiating table was first and foremost an act to eliminate opponents through terror, and secondly to spread intimidation and fear in the expatriate Iranian community.
Regardless of the definition, if you commit acts of terror, you are terrorist. One is a thief, whether one gets caught or not; however, when a thief is caught, there must be punishment. The Iranian regime has committed in the past, many acts of terror, so regardless of international laws surrounding state sovereignty, they must be considered terrorism; furthermore, the Islamist regime in Iran has been caught red handed in the Mykonos murder, the Jewish center in Argentina, the American Khobar tower bombing, the Rafic Hariri’s murder and so on… and these should be enough legal basis to consider the Islamist regime in Iran a terrorist state. Had the Austrian authorities allowed for the impartial and independent investigation into Dr. Ghassemlou’s case the truth about terrorist nature of this regime might have been even more easily exposed.