Iran Officials Arrest Five Athletes for Alleged Bomb Plot at Shah Cheragh Shrine

By Kayhan Life staff

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Intelligence Organization has arrested five athletes in Shiraz, the capital of the southwestern province of Fars, for allegedly planning to detonate a bomb on Oct. 26 in the Shah Cheragh Mosque, the Tehran-based Tasnim news agency reported on Dec. 13.

“The Imam Zaman unit of the IRGC Intelligence Organization in Fars arrested the culprits in a foiled bombing plot they planned to carry out during a terrorist operation in Shiraz,” Tasnim, affiliated with the IRGC, said. “In their confessions, the perpetrators have given new details about the operation. They planned to set off a bomb somewhere in the city during the unrest.”

On Oct. 26, a mass shooting in Shah Cheragh Mosque left at least 13 people dead and another 43 injured. Although the Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack, Iranian authorities blamed it on those who participated in a nationwide protest sparked by the death of Mahsa (Zhina) Amini, a 22-year-old woman who died while in the custody of the morality police in Tehran on Sept. 16.

OPINION: Iranian State May Have Masterminded Deadly Attack on Shiraz Mosque

Tasnim named the five athletes arrested by the IRGC as Dena Sheibani (snowboarding coach and graphic artist), Hesam Mousavi (rock climbing coach,) Amir Arsalan Mahdavi (snowboarding coach), Eshragh Najafabadi (cycling coach), Mohammad Khiveh (climbing coach).

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Tasnim’s report included a video clip (04.42 minutes long) of four men and a woman allegedly confessing to being part of a bombing plot. They are taped individually, sitting on a chair against a dark gray background.

While the four men are in light and dark blue striped prison uniforms, the woman wears a light-color chador (full-body cover). Three men and the woman wear large black blindfolds in the video, and the face of the fourth man is blurred.

Tasnim news agency’s logo appears on the upper right-hand corner of the screen. A circular sign on the upper lefthand corner of the screen reads “1-1-4 HQ”.

In the footage, the subjects are identified as Dena (in charge of propaganda and operation test), Mohammad (in charge of building the bombing kit), Eshragh (head of the bombing operation and team coordinator), Arsalan (a team member, and the main bomber), and Hesam (a planner in the bombing operation).

The woman in the video, identified as Dena, says: “We gathered at a friend’s house during the first days of the protest. The plan was to explode a bomb somewhere in the city. We aimed to spark unrest by detonating the bomb remotely, and we never thought we would get arrested. We believed we were safe and could escape.”

In the video, a man identified as Eshragh says: “I got explosive material for creating this bomb. We had everything we needed for this crucial operation, but were arrested before we could carry out this critical operation.”

Another man identified as Arsalan in the footage says: “After the bomb was ready, I put it in the car. I got some gas and dressed as a trash collector, so [security] agents would not suspect me. I put everything in a plastic bag and started walking towards Ehsan Square. A Basij [plainclothes volunteer militia] stopped me as I left Ehsan and entered Moali Abad [Blvd]. He asked what I was carrying in the bag and arrested me immediately. I had acted emotionally and not rationally.”

Another man identified as Ehsan in the clip explained that the reason for choosing the area around Ehsan Square and Moali Abad Blvd. was that, “there are more [CCTV] cameras in this square than any other areas. It is also across from the provincial government building, so the event would get much wider coverage.”

Although Iranian authorities quickly blamed the IS for the Oct. 26 attack on the Shah Cheragh Mosque, they did not mention the group after the arrest of the five athletes.

Many people suspect the Islamic Republic orchestrated the attack on Shah Cheragh to blame and discredit protesters and crush the nationwide revolt.

There were conflicting reports about the exact number of dead and injured in the Oc. 26 attacks.

While Iran’s Interior Minister put the number of dead and injured at 13 and 40, respectively, the Tehran-based hardline Kayhan newspaper and Iran daily said 15 had died in the attack and 23 others were injured.

Other newspapers gave differing numbers, with Javan reporting 27 people lost their lives, Jame Jam put the figure at 15 dead and 19 injured, and Aftab said 13 had died and 21 were injured.

Following the Oct. 26 attack on the Shah Cheragh Mosque, Kayhan London wrote that there were several classic methods to wage a psychological war to crush protests and create a scapegoat by sacrificing insiders and the public.

The Islamic Republic and similar regimes have used such tactics, the paper said. For instance, some suspect the regime was behind the bombing of the shrine of the 8th Shiite Imam Reza in Mashhad, the capital of the northeastern province of Khorasan Razavi, on Jun. 20, 1994, which killed and injured dozens of people.

Link to Kayhan.London/Persian

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