Who killed Masoud Alimohammadi, the Iranian physicist who was blown up outside his apartment in Teheran on 12 January by a remote-controlled motorcycle bomb? Emerging details of the professor's scientific and political life have strengthened the accusation by opponents of
It has already been reported that Alimohammadi, a theoretical particle physicist at the University of Tehran, was one of 240 academics at the institution who had declared their support for Mir Hossein Mousavi, the main opponent of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in last year's election. But ScienceInsider has learned that Alimohammadi's engagement in politics went beyond that.
On 5 January, just a week before he was killed, Alimohammadi gave a talk before a student gathering at his university's physics department in which he encouraged students to press on with the reformist movement without descending into chaos. (A recording of the session was posted on YouTube last week here, but it has been subsequently removed.) Expressing disillusionment with Iran's current state of affairs, Alimohammadi recounted his political activism from 3 decades ago when he participated in the Islamic revolution.
ScienceInsider learned of the talk from Ali Nayeri, an Iranian-born physicist at Chapman University in Orange, California, who was a freshman at Sharif University in the late '80s when Alimohammadi was earning a Ph.D. from that institution. Alimohammadi starts the talk by noting that fear of reprisals had kept many on campus from attending the event. “I, too, was instructed not to come,” he says, according to a translation.
Nayeri says he and many students he has talked to at the University of Tehran believe that Alimohammadi paid a price for his activism. “His killing was masterminded by the Islamic Republic,” Nayeri alleges. “The message to academics is: 'Don’t meddle in the political sphere.' ”
A look at Alimohammadi’s history reveals a man who went from radical Islamist roots to becoming a moderate and a reformist.