when Iran wants to assasinate someone

October 12th, 2011

(learn more about the book at the “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit)

They simply find a way to make sure the guy gets shot.  In a sense the Iranians are the hipsters of assassinations on American soil, because although they’ve done it here at least once before –  you’ve probably never heard of it.

But in light of the recent “plot” that was foiled, it’s important to bring up that historical precedent.  As Salon‘s Glen Greenwald among many others have noted, this particular scheme seems about as far-fetched and shadily-orchestrated as international terrorist plots of sinister assassination come:

The Terrorist Mastermind at the center of the plot is a failed used car salesman in Texas with a history of pedestrian money problems. Dive under your bed. “For the entire operation, the government’s confidential sources were monitored and guided by federal law enforcement agents,” explained U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, and “no explosives were actually ever placed anywhere and no one was actually ever in any danger.’”

And as noted in the Christian Science Monitor: This [plot] doesn’t seem to serve Iran’s interests in any conceivable way.”  “Assassinating the Saudi ambassador would increase international pressure against Iran, could be considered an act of war … by Saudi Arabia, it could really destabilize the government in Iran.

Not only does the realpolitik of the plot hold no water, but it simply doesn’t fit in to any past modus operandi of the Iranian government at all.  Because the last time Iran wanted to kill someone on American soil, they simply found an American who was willing to just shoot the guy they wanted dead.

It is one of the most indelible images of the Civil Rights era. Birmingham police chief, Bull Connor, turning attack dogs and against civil rights marchers and bowling those the dogs spared over with high-pressure fire hoses. Sitting in Bay Shore, Long Island a seventh-grader sat and watched his television, his mouth agape at the violence. And something inside of him began to grow.

David Belfield would later call the feeling “an implacable hatred toward all symbols of American authority,” and in a few years he would refuse to mouth the words of the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of each school day, telling his family that he could tell the words didn’t apply to everyone.26

He’s not sure what in particular pushed him over the edge, but the more he read about American slavery, the more he saw the stark future of other blacks whose lives seemed to be “the Third World in a First World setting,” and the more he read W.E.B. DuBois and works from other discontent thinkers – the more he realized he wanted to act. He’s not clear about whether the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. were the specific incidents which inspired his course of action, but it seems improbable that they didn’t play some role setting him on his course of action.27

And so, all of this in mind, he did his homework.

Although he knew there was an excellent chance that he’d die in the process, he decided he wanted to take out either Kermit Roosevelt or Henry Kissinger, men he thought had carried out key roles in the violent American-inspired overthrow of two foreign governments. But, as it turns out, that’s not what fate had in mind for him.

Shortly before he turned eighteen, David met a Korean War vet at a meeting of black activists and writers, and admired the vet enough to take him seriously when he told David that he’d stop talking to him unless David read the Koran. After reading Islam’s holy book and being struck, much like Malcolm X, by the fact that the Koran seemed color-blind and by the themes of social justice, David converted to Islam and changed his name to Dawud Salahuddin.

In the following months he began spending time in DC-area mosques and even edited a local Islamic newspaper. It was during this time that Dawud first met with Iranian agents at a student center in northern Virginia run by the Ayatollah Khomenini’s supporters in America. Fresh off the successful overthrow of the Shah, Iran had sent its revolutionaries to America to see what kind of a foothold their interpretation of Islam might find inside America.

And in Dawud they found just such a foothold. He proved willing to follow whatever instructions the Iranians had for him, which at first were to begin recruiting fellow Americans for “political activities and violence.”28

It’s unclear whose idea it was, Dawud’s or the Iranians, but this recruitment would take place almost exclusively in one place. Dawud spent much of the early 1970’s looking for fellow black Americans in a place more and more of his colored countrymen would find themselves in the years to come.

He was, of course, recruiting heavily from prisons.

Just how many black inmates he won over to Islam will never be known, but we know for sure that at least ten African-Americans that Dawud met were won over because on July 21st, 1980 they either aided or abetted him in the assassination of Ali Akbar Tabatabai. Tabatabai was an Iranian exile living in Bethesda, Maryland who the Khomeini regime suspected was plotting against the newly installed Islamic government in Iran.

To guarantee that he wouldn’t succeed in usurping the clerical regime, all of the evidence supports the allegation that Iranian agents in America directed Dawud to kill Tabatabai.

And so Dawud disguised himself as a postal delivery men and shot Tabatabai in the gut three-times with a Browning semi-automatic pistol he had secreted inside a false package he was carrying, before fleeing in a haphazard but successful exodus to safety in Iran. The investigation into the assassination would reveal that Dawud was assisted by the aforementioned ten associates, most of them disaffected African-Americans like himself.

Exactly what role the Iranian government played in this killing has never been precisely pinned down, but when all the circumstantial dots are connected it becomes hard to argue that the death of Ali Akbar was not the result of a direct order from the Iranian government.

An order carried out by an American operative who had been recruited on American soil.

As tensions between America and Iran continue to thicken the possibility of violent retribution grows. Just what form that retribution may take is impossible to guess, however we do know that since the 1970’s Iran has been actively recruiting agents from our black prison population. In the decades since our prison population has jumped exponentially, and a disproportionate amount of that population consists of African-Americans who have all the more reason to be angry at an established government they see as corrupt, oppressive, and racist.

Iran found one pissed off black man ready to kill on American soil thirty years ago. Now, with literally millions more pissed off black men who have been exposed to a violent and intolerant version of Islam in prison ripe for recruitment on our streets, the possibility that open conflict with Iran will result in acts of Tactical Terror carried out by black ex-con Muslim converts cannot be ignored.

Generations ago warfare adopted the idea of recruiting and training members of a targeted society to carry out violence against it. The Jedburghs and Green Berets adopted a strategy that other nations, Iran included, have learned from and have likely sought to imitate. And the members of American society ripest for conversion are inarguably black ex-cons, who have not only tasted the sting of racism but the dehumanizing tonic of a life imprisoned.

If that violence happens, it will spiral. And whether or not it spirals out of control and passes the event horizon of a Tipping Point may be out of our collective control.


Category: Arab Spring, counterinsurgency, islam, news, politics, Saudi Arabia, terrorism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , 3 comments »

3 Responses to “when Iran wants to assasinate someone”

  1. Mike

    Basically, i think its fair to say that there might be some validity. Whether its Hitch, Roya Hakakian or Lee Smith, the iran assassination plot of the Saudi Ambassador is plausible

  2. Jay

    Just pointing out the “some validity” is a logical absurdity.

  3. Ashlynn Crissman

    Thanks for the blog post.Much thanks again. Really Cool.

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