NICOSIA, Cyprus — A firing squad executed at dawn today in a Tehran prison the clergyman responsible for revealing a secret trip to Tehran by former U.S. national security adviser Robert C. McFarlane and U.S. arms sales to Iran.
Mehdi Hashemi, the former right-hand man of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's chosen successor, died a victim of the power struggle in Iran's divided hierarchy. His execution, for treason, indicates that "pragmatist" leaders who want to end Iran's isolation have gained the upper hand.
Tehran Radio, monitored in Nicosia, reported in a terse announcement that Hashemi was shot at 6 a.m.
Until his arrest last October on the orders of Iran's powerful Parliament speaker, Hashemi Rafsanjani, Hashemi was the chief lieutenant of Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, 55.
Montazeri is Rafsanjani's political rival. Khomeini, Iran's leader and revolutionary patriarch, chose Montazeri as his successor two years ago.
Hashemi's associates leaked word that Rafsanjani was dealing secretly with the United States to trade weapons for hostages held by Iranian-backed Shia Muslim extremists in Lebanon. The disclosure acutely embarrassed Rafsanjani.
Hashemi also led the Department for the Support of Islamic Liberation Movements, which directs Shia militants in Lebanon and in Persian Gulf Arab countries. He was believed to be involved in the kidnaping of foreigners held hostage in Lebanon.
Hashemi, a low-ranking clergyman, was sentenced by an Islamic religious court after a three-day trial in August. He had appeared on state-run Iran Television and confessed to charges including murder, kidnaping, amassing weapons and plotting to overthrow the government.
His execution, despite Montazeri's intercession with Khomeini, was seen as boosting the standing of Rafsanjani. The speaker is the most powerful figure in Iran after the 87-year-old Khomeini.
The left-leaning Rafsanjani leads a faction that wants to end Iran's isolation. Its power struggle with radicals led by Prime Minister Hussein Moussavi has intensified in recent months, and the position of Montazeri, another radical, apparently has weakened.
Convicted of Earlier Killing
In 1973, six years before Khomeini's revolution toppled Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Hashemi was convicted of strangling a pro-shah religious figure, Ayatollah Shamsabadi. He was sentenced to life in prison and freed in 1979 when the shah went into exile.
But revolutionary authorities charged after his arrest last year that he had collaborated with SAVAK, the shah's secret police.
Hashemi's brother Hadi is Montazeri's son-in-law. After the revolution, Hashemi rose rapidly in the new regime.
His downfall began in October, 1986, when his men kidnaped a Syrian diplomat in Tehran. Syria is Iran's key Arab ally, and the abduction embarrassed Rafsanjani.
After Hashemi was arrested, apparently with Khomeini's approval, his supporters leaked details of Rafsanjani's clandestine meetings with McFarlane to the Beirut weekly Ash Shiraa.