Government supporters fire on car of an Iranian opposition leader after calls for executions

By Nasser Karimi, AP
Friday, January 8, 2010

Shots fired at leading Iranian opposition figure

TEHRAN, Iran — Pro-government demonstrators opened fire on the car of one of Iran’s opposition leaders and shattered his windows, but he escaped unharmed from the rare armed attack on a top reformist, his Web site reported on Friday.

Hard-liners called last week for the execution of opposition leaders, raising tensions that could spark a cycle of political violence beyond even the government’s control.

Mahdi Karroubi blamed authorities after shots were fired at his car late Thursday from a crowd of about 500 government supporters surrounded by police in the town of Qazvin, some 90 miles (140 kilometers) west of Tehran.

At the time of the shooting, Karroubi was leaving a house he was staying in while visiting a friend in the town, and government supporters were rallying outside the building. Karroubi’s bodyguards, who were with him at the time of the incident, did not return fire. They were also unharmed.

“God knows why a hand, which should defend people and the country, opens fire on the people,” Karroubi said. The shots shattered the carwindows, reported Sahamnews Web site.

Karroubi ran in June’s disputed presidential election that the opposition says Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won by fraud. Unrest began immediately following the government announcement declaring Ahmadinejad the victor, with mass street protests followed by a ferocious government crackdown. The opposition says more than 80 protesters have been killed in the crackdown, but the government puts the number of confirmed dead at less than 40.

In late December, protests gained momentum again and clashes between security forces and opposition supporters killed at least eight people — the worst violence since the height of the unrest in the summer.

The shooting against Karroubi, however, was unusual. Karroubi’s car was pelted by a brick-wielding mob in December. In 1999, another pro-reform politician, Saeed Hajjarian, was shot in the face and paralyzed.

The attack raised concerns that the political turmoil rocking Iran could be spiraling out of the government’s control. An editor of a reformist Web site in Tehran said he feared for Karroubi’s life.

“It was not just a single threat,” the editor said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “It’s a move for the physical elimination of Karroubi and other opposition leaders.”

None of Iran’s official or semiofficial news outlets reported on the shooting on Karroubi.

Since the bloodshed last month, death threats against opposition leaders have increased, with pro-government demonstrations last week calling for the execution of Karroubi and the top opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Senior cleric Kazem Sedighi appeared to give the green light Friday for people to take matters into their own hands against opposition figures.

“I am concerned that people will lose patience if the legal apparatus does not conduct its affairs in a timely manner,” Sedighi said during Friday’s sermon in Tehran. He also claimed some of the 500 protesters arrested around the Shiite holy day of Ashoura Dec. 27 were intoxicated.

Also during Friday prayers, hard-line lawmaker Gholam Ali Haddad Adel appeared to lash out Karroubi, accusing him of serving the enemies of Iran. Authorities have repeatedly accused the United States and Britain of fomenting Iran’s unrest and supporting the opposition.

“Why did you pave the ground for the plots of foreign enemies?” said Adel, an ally of Iran’s supreme leader. “You damaged the reputation of the system,” he added, without mentioning Karroubi by name, and warned those going against the establishment “will melt like snow under rays of the sun.”

Tehran’s prosecutor said Friday a German national and a Syrian reporter for Dubai TV who were among those detained during the latest opposition protests in December would soon be released, but gave no timeframe.

The prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, said five other detained protesters will go on trial next week. He described them as members of the armed opposition group MEK, or Mujahedeen Khalq, and said they will be tried on charges of defying the clerical establishment and could face the death sentence under Iranian law.

The group fought Iran’s Western-backed monarchy in the 1960s and the current Islamic establishment in the 1980s. It moved its base to Iraq soon after 1979 Islamic revolution and is said to have provided Americans with intelligence on Iran. The U.S. lists MEK as a terrorist organization, but the European Union removed it from its terror list last year.

The prosecutor also said several followers of the Bahai faith were detained in December protests. He said they helped “in organizing the riots and sending pictures of the protest abroad.” Bahaism is considered illegal after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

(This version CORRECTS New approach; UPDATES overlines; corrects that EU removed MEK from terror list last year sted this year.)

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