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Former Iran assassin says alleged plot 'makes no sense'

Dawud Salahuddin, an American fugitive in Tehran who carried out 1980 hit near Washington, argues that Iran would not try to kill the Saudi ambassador to the US for fear of provoking war.

By Staff writer / October 14, 2011

Iran assassination plot: Manssor Arbabsiar is shown in this courtroom sketch during an appearance in a Manhattan courtroom in New York on Tuesday.

Jane Rosenberg/Reuters

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ISTANBUL, TURKEY

In Tehran, an unexpected source is expressing doubt about the assassination plot laid out by US officials, alleging that Iran was behind plans to kill the top Saudi Arabian diplomat in Washington and blow up embassies.

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Dawud Salahuddin, an American fugitive who in 1980 was the last – and only – US citizen known to have killed on behalf of Iran's revolutionary regime, on US soil, says the plot borders on the unbelievable.

Both strategically and operationally, in terms of Iran's worldview and its way of doing business, the information made public so far about the assassination plot does not add up, says Mr. Salahuddin, a black American convert to Islam, who was born David Theodore Belfield.

"For all the noise that comes out of this country, the Iranians know full well they are no military match for the Americans; they know that better than they know their names," says Salahuddin, who spoke to the Monitor by telephone from his home west of Tehran. "So the notion that [the Iranians] are going to bring that down on them, that just makes no sense at all."

"Why would the Iranians blow up embassies in Washington DC? The last thing the Iranians want is a war with the Americans," he adds. "This regime: They're interested in staying in power."

A 1980 assassination

That was also the case not long after Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, when Salahuddin was recruited to assassinate Ali Akbar Tabatabai, a vocal critic of the fledgling religious regime.

Dressed as a mailman when he approached Mr. Tabatabai's residence in Bethesda, Maryland, on July 22, 1980, Salahuddin killed the former Shah-era press attaché by firing three bullets into his abdomen.

The homicide report described the shooting as a "political assassination," and stated that the victim had founded a group "whose goal was the overthrow of the present regime in Iran."

Salahuddin fled to Iran via Canada and Europe, and ever since has lived unhappily as a fugitive, mostly in Tehran. He fought with the mujahideen against the Soviets in Afghanistan, has worked as journalist and editor, and even played a role in the 2001 Mohsen Makhmalbaf film "Kandahar."

He has a host of contacts throughout Iran's regime and its intelligence services, but is often very critical of the Islamic Republic and the unfulfilled promises of its revolution.

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