An assassination in Istanbul and an election in Iran

Is the assassination of an Iranian television director on April 29 in Istanbul related to the Iranian election?

  • Yes, it is possible.

In this case, whom did the assassination plotters intend to send their message to?

  • To Basij militia throughout Iran.

These conclusions may appear strange, unless we read the story precisely.

Saeed Karimian, born in Tehran, the manager and owner of GEM TV group, was assassinated along with a Kuwaiti business partner while in his car in Istanbul last April 29.  The murderers riddled their bodies with 27 bullets.

GEM TV has been broadcasting entertainment programs since 2006.  The content of these programs is strictly non-political.  The BBC reported that Karimian's family said that the Iranian government had threatened him in recent months and that he had planned to leave Istanbul for London, according to The Washington Post.

Iran's so-called judiciary held a trial in absentia last year and sentenced Karimian to six years in prison.

An unusual measure is witnessed in the quick reaction of Iranian state media publishing reports related to Karimian's assassination, even before Turkish media.

Another significant sign was the detailed reports published by media outlets linked to Iran's Revolutionary Guards media claiming that Karimian had close relations with the Iranian opposition, the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

They even doctored an image claiming that Karimian met with Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi.  Karimian had strongly denied such reports in the past.

But all Iranians know that linking anyone to the PMOI/MEK is tantamount to an undeclared execution order.

Other attacks:

In October 2011, the U.S. government unveiled how the IRGC plotted to assassinate Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia's then-ambassador in Washington.  They also carried out several other attacks in Pakistan, India, and Georgia.

Iran's nuclear talks with six world powers brought a pause to such attacks.  However, such measures were relaunched following the negotiations.  A Pakistani agent, hired by Iran, attempted to assassinate a French-Israeli academic in Germany.  Last March, a German court condemned this individual to four years behind bars.

It seems that the negative impact of these assassinations can meet the Iranian regime's interests.  Today, Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamanei, has made it his priority to have Ebrahim Raisi, an influential member of his own camp, become the next president.  He sees Raisi's merciless determination (including Raisi's 1988 massacre of political prisoners) as the solution for his predicament.  Terrorist attacks outside Iran are a known method resorted to by the Iranian regime to inspire its very small social base to participate in the May 19 presidential election.

It is possible that Khamenei and the IRGC fail in their objective.  But whether the incumbent Hassan Rouhani or his competitor becomes president, one thing is clear: the April 29 assassination in Istanbul is a political signal indicating where the Iranian theocracy is heading after the elections.

Mohammad Amin (@EconomieIran) is a senior research fellow for the Paris-based Fondation d'Études pour le Moyen-Orient (FEMO), or the Foundation for the Study of the Middle East.  He has written several books and essays about the ruling theocracy, the transformation of Iran's political economy under the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East.

Is the assassination of an Iranian television director on April 29 in Istanbul related to the Iranian election?

  • Yes, it is possible.

In this case, whom did the assassination plotters intend to send their message to?

  • To Basij militia throughout Iran.

These conclusions may appear strange, unless we read the story precisely.

Saeed Karimian, born in Tehran, the manager and owner of GEM TV group, was assassinated along with a Kuwaiti business partner while in his car in Istanbul last April 29.  The murderers riddled their bodies with 27 bullets.

GEM TV has been broadcasting entertainment programs since 2006.  The content of these programs is strictly non-political.  The BBC reported that Karimian's family said that the Iranian government had threatened him in recent months and that he had planned to leave Istanbul for London, according to The Washington Post.

Iran's so-called judiciary held a trial in absentia last year and sentenced Karimian to six years in prison.

An unusual measure is witnessed in the quick reaction of Iranian state media publishing reports related to Karimian's assassination, even before Turkish media.

Another significant sign was the detailed reports published by media outlets linked to Iran's Revolutionary Guards media claiming that Karimian had close relations with the Iranian opposition, the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

They even doctored an image claiming that Karimian met with Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi.  Karimian had strongly denied such reports in the past.

But all Iranians know that linking anyone to the PMOI/MEK is tantamount to an undeclared execution order.

Other attacks:

In October 2011, the U.S. government unveiled how the IRGC plotted to assassinate Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia's then-ambassador in Washington.  They also carried out several other attacks in Pakistan, India, and Georgia.

Iran's nuclear talks with six world powers brought a pause to such attacks.  However, such measures were relaunched following the negotiations.  A Pakistani agent, hired by Iran, attempted to assassinate a French-Israeli academic in Germany.  Last March, a German court condemned this individual to four years behind bars.

It seems that the negative impact of these assassinations can meet the Iranian regime's interests.  Today, Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamanei, has made it his priority to have Ebrahim Raisi, an influential member of his own camp, become the next president.  He sees Raisi's merciless determination (including Raisi's 1988 massacre of political prisoners) as the solution for his predicament.  Terrorist attacks outside Iran are a known method resorted to by the Iranian regime to inspire its very small social base to participate in the May 19 presidential election.

It is possible that Khamenei and the IRGC fail in their objective.  But whether the incumbent Hassan Rouhani or his competitor becomes president, one thing is clear: the April 29 assassination in Istanbul is a political signal indicating where the Iranian theocracy is heading after the elections.

Mohammad Amin (@EconomieIran) is a senior research fellow for the Paris-based Fondation d'Études pour le Moyen-Orient (FEMO), or the Foundation for the Study of the Middle East.  He has written several books and essays about the ruling theocracy, the transformation of Iran's political economy under the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East.