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U professors seek inquiry into assassination of Iranian physicist

The mystery of who assassinated Masoud Alimohammadi features all of the intrigue of a Cold War spy thriller. But it is disturbing political reality in science circles. And it has prompted prominent Western science journals to jump into crime reporting like never before.

Alimohammadi, a theoretical particle physicist at the University of Tehran, was blown up by a remote-controlled motorbike bomb on Jan. 12 outside his home in Tehran.

University of Minnesota professors are among dozens of academics worldwide who have signed an open letter to human rights organizations condemning the murder and demanding an independent inquiry.     

Cyrus Bina, an economics professor at the University of Minnesota Morris, said in an email that he signed the letter, “hoping to bring this cold and calculated the attention of human rights organizations and media at large.”

Bina said that the slain professor “had nothing to do with Iran's controversial nuclear program,” and was relatively reserved in his political actions. Still, Bina blames the “henchmen” of the regime led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and backed by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The slain physicist’s “only ‘crime’ was that he appeared to be supporting the ‘Green Movement,’” said Bina, an American Iranian.

“Although I am not associated with the latter movement,... I am concerned with the loss of life of anyone in the opposition, and adamant about finding a way that all the government-sanctioned atrocities in this regime be exposed to the international community,” Bina said. “Hopefully a Nuremberg-style court will be established to deal with them--when this regime is gone down to the dustbin of history.”

This week, Iranian officials blamed Israel and the United States for the bomb attack and called on the United States to extradite members of a “terrorist group,” Reuters reported.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast named the group as Tondar (Thunder) but gave no details, Reuters said. The spokesman also said the Swiss ambassador, who represents U.S. interests in the Islamic Republic, was summoned to the ministry “for an explanation on how the U.S. accepted to have this terrorist group in their country.”

Fars News Agency, Iran’s semi-official news outlet, said on Tuesday, “the country seeks extradition of the members of the Los Angeles-based terror group Tondar, which has taken responsibility for the assassination.”

But Science magazine writer, Yudhijit Bhattacharjee blogged that “emerging details of the professor's scientific and political life have strengthened the accusation by opponents of Iran’s regime that the murder was sponsored by pro-government forces and not by foreign intelligence agencies.”

Alimohammadi was one of 240 academics at the University of Tehran who had declared their support for Mir Hossein Mousavi, the main opponent of Ahmadinejad in last year's election.

Further, Science reported online that: “On 5 January, just a week before he was killed, Alimohammadi gave a talk before a student gathering at his university's physics department in which he encouraged students to press on with the reformist movement without descending into chaos....  Expressing disillusionment with Iran's current state of affairs, Alimohammadi recounted his political activism from three decades ago when he participated in the Islamic revolution.”

A recording of the session was posted on the Internet but then removed, Bhattacharjee said.

Alimohammadi started the talk by noting that fear of reprisals had kept many on campus from attending the event. “I, too, was instructed not to come,” he said, according to the Scienceonline report.

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