Iran executes leader of attack that killed dozens at parade

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Iran has executed an Iranian-Swedish dual national accused of masterminding a 2018 attack on a military parade that killed at least 25 people, one of several enemies of Tehran seized abroad in recent years amid tensions with the West.

Farajollah Cha’ab, also known as Habib Asyoud, was a leader of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz, an Arab separatist movement that has conducted oil pipeline bombings and other attacks in Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan province.

That group claimed the 2018 attack in its immediate aftermath.

Cha’ab’s execution came after a Swedish court last year sentenced an Iranian to life in prison over his part in the 1988 mass executions in Iran at the end of its war with Iraq. Tehran, which has used prisoners as bargaining chips in negotiations with the West, reacted angrily to that sentence.

Meanwhile, tensions remain high between Iran and the West over its rapidly advancing nuclear programme as well — and at least one more prisoner with western ties faces a possible execution.

The Iranian judiciary’s Mizan news agency confirmed Cha’ab’s execution by hanging in a lengthy statement.

Iran Execution
Coffins of victims of the attack (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

It accused his group of killing or wounding 450 people over the years, including multiple attacks on government offices and other sites.

It also included state television interviews with Cha’ab, a feature of many Iranian trials that activists have described as coerced confessions.

It also for the first time confirmed Iranian intelligence officers were behind Cha’ab’s abduction, saying that its “unknown soldiers” captured him in Turkey in November 2019.

Iran has used similar ruses to capture its enemies abroad, including the exiled journalist Ruhollah Zam, who was executed in 2020.

Swedish foreign minister Tobias Billstrom condemned Cha’ab’s execution.

“The death penalty is an inhumane and irrevocable punishment, and Sweden, together with the rest of the (European Union), condemns its use under all circumstances,” he said in a statement.

The Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights also condemned the execution, referring to Cha’ab’s closed-door trial as “grossly unfair”.

“This is an example of the Islamic Republic’s state terrorism,” said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, the group’s director.

“We expect that the EU and Swedish government show adequate reaction to the murder of their citizen. Killing a hostage must not be tolerated.”

Tensions had already escalated between Iran and Sweden over the life imprisonment of Hamid Noury, an Iranian convicted of committing war crimes and murder during the final phase of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

The end of the war saw mass executions of an estimated 5,000 Iranian prisoners, including those from an exiled opposition group and others.

The 2018 attack in Iran targeted a military parade in Ahvaz in Khuzestan, the chaos captured live on state television.

Militants disguised as soldiers opened fire, killing at least 25 people and wounding more than 60 others in the deadliest attack to strike Iran in years.

A spokesman for the separatist group claimed the assault shortly after in a televised interview. The so-called Islamic State group also claimed the attack, although it offered incorrect details about the assault.

In recent months, Iran has carried out other executions after the months of unrest over the September death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini following her arrest by the country’s morality police.

In January, Tehran executed a former high-ranking defence ministry official and dual Iranian-British national accused of spying.

Also facing a possible execution is an Iranian-German national who lived in California, a man Iran describes as planning a 2008 attack on a mosque that killed 14 people and wounded more than 200 others, as well as other assaults through the little-known Kingdom Assembly of Iran and its Tondar militant wing. His family says he was captured by Iranian intelligence in Dubai.

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