Iran TerrorismTop Tehran TV journalist wanted by FBI for 1980...

Top Tehran TV journalist wanted by FBI for 1980 murder in the US

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ImageThe Times: An American fugitive, accused of murdering an aide to the late Shah of Iran in the United States, was made an editor of Iran’s English-language television network in Tehran.

The Times

Richard Kerbaj

ImageAn American fugitive, accused of murdering an aide to the late Shah of Iran in the United States, was made an editor of Iran’s English-language television network in Tehran.

Hassan Abdulrahman, who is wanted by the FBI for shooting dead Ali Akbar Tabatabai in Maryland, worked for Iran’s flagship broadcaster Press TV, which has bureaus across the world, including London.

A Press TV journalist who resigned in protest over the channel’s coverage of the apparently rigged Iranian election in June told The Times yesterday that Mr Abdulrahman was chief editor at the head office of the network.

The journalist, who wanted to remain anonymous for security reasons, said that Mr Abdulrahman showed no remorse when quizzed by staff about murdering Mr Tabatabai.

“Knowing that a person wanted by the FBI for murder was influencing the editorial line of the network and choosing the stories people around the world would watch didn’t seem right to me,” the journalist said.

Mr Abdulrahman, 58, admitted killing Mr Tabatabai but tried to distance himself from Press TV when contacted yesterday. He admitted working for Press TV for three years as the chief online editor but said that he resigned two months ago after the election.

He refused to reveal when he resigned and for what reasons, saying: “I’m living in a situation right now that’s a little bit difficult.”

Mr Abdulrahman was as frank about his opinion of Press TV’s quality of journalism as he was about killing Mr Tabatabai, a former press attaché at the Iranian Embassy in Washington. “No, I don’t think Press TV is about [real journalism]. By its nature, state journalism is not journalism. They have some programmes on there that might be, but generally it’s not,” he said.

Press TV — which is being investigated by Ofcom over complaints that it breached accuracy and impartiality rules — has tried to increase its appeal by hiring British figures such as the MPs George Galloway and Derek Conway and the journalists Andrew Gilligan and Yvonne Ridley. Tony Blair’s sister-in-law, Lauren Booth, is also employed by the Iranian-financed organisation.

Nick Ferrari, the British radio presenter, quit his job at Press TV in June over its biased coverage of the Iranian election.

Former and current Press TV staff members told The Times that the network’s editorial policy was dictated mainly by its head office in Tehran. The London bureau has consistently denied being influenced by Iran, saying that it is a separate operation.

Mr Abdulrahman said that he did not volunteer any information about his past when he was given the job at Press TV, nor did his employer ask him about his criminal background.

“I didn’t ask them, they didn’t ask me,” he said by telephone from his home in Karaj, northwest of Tehran.

Asked what Press TV’s policy was on seeking criminal record checks on prospective employees, he laughed: “Not a lot of people in Iran have criminal histories.”

Almost three decades after shooting Mr Tabatabai three times in the stomach at his Maryland home on July 22, 1980, Mr Abdulrahman said that he felt no remorse. “I don’t regret that, no,” he said.

The FBI said last night that it was still pursuing Mr Abdulrahman for the murder. “He is still wanted by us and we still have the investigation going on him,” a spokesman said. “He is wanted for murder. The FBI wants him for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. The murder itself is a state violation that would be dealt in Baltimore, where the murder took place.”

Mr Abdulrahman — born David Theodore Belfield to African-American parents before converting to Islam in 1969 and changing his name initially to Dawud Salahuddin — became furious at the suggestion that he was lauded by the Iranian regime for the killing. “What’s great work about killing a man? It’s pretty easy in the modern age. You think it’s great that the Americans have killed a million people in Iraq? Or that they are getting killed every day and killing hundreds of people in Afghanistan and they’re gonna have their arses chewed up in the end and so are the British. What the f*** is great about that?”

Mr Abdulrahman stressed that the $5,000 that he was paid by the regime for carrying out the hit was merely to cover his expenses, which included driving to Canada directly after the shooting, then boarding a flight from Montreal to Paris with a connection to Geneva. “That wasn’t payment, OK? Let’s be clear about that. That was for expenses. It costs money to travel across oceans.”

Mr Abdulrahman managed to clear Customs in Geneva despite using a passport that named him as David Theodore Belfield, the name that had been identified by the FBI in connection with the killing.

The US does not have an extradition treaty with Iran.

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