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Iran suspects Kurdish rebels in prosecutor killing

An Iranian official said Tuesday that a Kurdish rebel group may have been involved in the killing of a prosecutor gunned down outside his home in a northwestern town near the Turkish border.
/ Source: The Associated Press

An Iranian official said Tuesday that a Kurdish rebel group may have been involved in the killing of a prosecutor gunned down outside his home in a northwestern town near the Turkish border.

Two gunmen opened fire late Monday on Vali Hajgholizadeh, who officials described as a local prosecutor with an excellent record of fighting opponents of the Islamic Republic. The attack was in the town of Khoy, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the border of predominantly Kurdish southeastern Turkey.

The town is in an area that has seen occasional clashes between security forces and Kurdish separatist groups. The official English-language Press TV said the prosecutor had received death threats from Kurdish separatists over the past few days and that four suspects have been arrested in the killing.

Though assassinations have been rare in Iran, this was the second one in a week. On Jan. 12, a Tehran University physics professor was killed in a mysterious bomb attack as he was leaving his home in the capital Tehran to go to work in the morning.

No group took responsibility and no arrests have been made in that attack. But Iran blamed an armed Iranian opposition group it alleged was working for the U.S. and Israel. The U.S. denied involvement.

The killings have only added to the atmosphere of tension in Iran following the disputed June 12 presidential elections. The opposition has waged anti-government protests, claiming election fraud kept Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in power for a second term.

In its latest move, the opposition has called on supporters to refrain from using cell phones, text message systems or telephone land lines from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday to protest the monitoring of communications by the country's security forces and elite Revolutionary Guard.

The planned protest has been dubbed "Green Silence Day" after the color of the opposition.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, meanwhile, warned Tuesday that Iran's enemies were behind the opposition's plans to hold large-scale demonstrations on Feb. 11, the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that brought the ruling clerics to power in Tehran and the most hallowed day in the country's political calendar. He urged government supporters to turn out in full force for counter demonstrations on the same day.

Iran's semiofficial ISNA news agency quoted the head of the provincial justice department where the town of Khoy is located, Mohammad Ali Mousavi, as saying no group had taken responsibility for the prosecutor's killing there. But he said the prosecutor had received threats from a Kurdish rebel group and based on that, the group "probably was involved" in the killing.

He named the outlawed Kurdish separate group PEJAK, or Party for Free Life in Kurdistan, as the group behind the threats. PEJAK is a breakaway faction of the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party, also known as PKK. Iran has in the past accused PEJAK of regularly launching attacks inside Iran from bases in Iraq in the Qandil Mountain area that borders Iran and Turkey.

Hajgholizadeh had a "brilliant record in battling land-grabbing, moral corruption, and counterrevolutionaries," the semiofficial Fars news agency quoted Ebrahim Mazraeli, an official in the Khoy governor's office, as saying.

Iranian authorities consider the Kurdish separatist rebels opponents of the Islamic Revolution.

Iran is also in a standoff with the West over its nuclear program, which the U.S. and its allies suspect is aimed at making weapons despite Tehran's repeated denials.

Defense Minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi accused the West on Tuesday of "militarizing" the Persian Gulf, and said Tehran could easily target Western warships in those waters in case of a military attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. Iran has made similar threats in the past.

In a separate development, Iran accused France Tuesday of using the extradition hearings of an Iranian allegedly linked to the country's nuclear program to put political pressure on Tehran, which is prosecuting a French national accused of involvement in the post-election protests.

U.S. authorities have alleged the Iranian in France, 37-year-old Majid Kakavand, is tied to companies involved in Iran's nuclear program. His lawyers have denied that. The U.S. requested his arrest and extradition, accusing him of buying electronics over the Internet via a company in Malaysia in violation of U.S. trade sanctions on Iran, his lawyer Marie-Laure Bonaldi-Nut said.

"We denounce this trial by the French and we think that they, under U.S. pressure, want to put pressure on Iran," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told a news conference.

He called the proceedings against Kakavand "illegal, insisting he was innocent and demanded his release as soon as possible.