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Former leaders praise slain professor

Both say attack could intensify Iranian crisis

By Ali Akbar Dareini and Brian Murphy
Associated Press / January 14, 2010

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TEHRAN - Two former Iranian presidents yesterday condemned a bomb attack that killed a physics professor who had backed the nation’s opposition leader, calling the remote-controlled blast an act of terrorism that could deepen unrest and violence.

The separate statements by Mohammad Khatami and Hashemi Rafsanjani did not directly accuse any group of detonating the bomb-rigged motorcycle Tuesday that killed the 50-year-old researcher and lecturer, whose work included some aspects of nuclear theory.

But each honored Masoud Ali Mohammadi as a victim of terrorism.

The statements also added to the puzzling array of claims and clues following the attack.

Iranian officials quickly blamed an exile opposition group they contend has ties to the United States and Israel - allegations strongly denied by the US State Department. Ali Larijani, Iranian Parliament speaker, repeated the claims against the United States yesterday.

A hard-line militia group, the Basij, also praised Ali Mohammadi as a martyr.

The professor, however, had few apparent links outside the academic community.

He was not known to have any key roles in the opposition movement, although his name appeared on a university petition pledging support for reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi before June’s disputed election. The spokesman for Iran’s atomic energy agency said Ali Mohammadi had no involvement in Iran’s nuclear program.

Khatami, a strong Mousavi backer who has denounced the escalating crackdowns on opposition protesters, said the bomb attack was carried out by groups seeking to “further destabilize the crisis.’’

In a statement of condolence to the professor’s wife posted on Khatami’s website, he said the “ugly face of terrorism’’ was behind the bombing. But he did not make any direct accusations.

Rafsanjani’s statement, carried by the semi-official ILNA news agency, called the bombing “cowardly terrorism’’ and a sign of “a new era of intrigue’’ in Iran.

Rafsanjani, who served as president from 1989 to 1997, has not publicly endorsed the opposition but has tangled with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

As Iran presses its crackdown against opposition supporters, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy said Iranian intelligence agents arrested his father Tuesday at the family’s home in the city of Qom.

Mehdi Khalaji said the agents seized the family’s passports, as well as notes, books, personal letters, a computer, and a satellite receiver.

The well-known political analyst, who has often been quoted in Western and Iranian media reports, believes his family was in part targeted to pressure him.

His father, Mohammad Taqi Khalaji, a cleric, has expressed support for the opposition and criticism of the country’s leaders.