Iranian mourners during funeral for Massoud Ali Mohammadi

Iran’s state-controlled media have launched a full-blown propaganda campaign claiming that the United States and Israel are responsible for the murder of an Iranian scientist. Iran’s Foreign Ministry charged that the bomb plot that killed Dr. Massoud Ali-Mohammadi in Tehran on Tuesday “revealed signs of the involvement of the Zionist regime, the U.S. and their allies in Iran.” By portraying Ali-Mohammadi as a nuclear scientist and former member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps who was “martyred,” the regime claims that his killers are counter-revolutionary forces backed by foreign powers and implies that his murder is part of a western plot to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program. This conveniently sets the stage for an even harsher crackdown on Iran’s opposition movement.

Today Iran’s bellicose president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, chimed in saying that “The manner of bomb planting shows a Zionist style and they want to make sure that Iran would not advance.” For good measure, he added that the United States seeks to dominate the Middle East by using September 11 as a “pretext”: “The September 11 incident was very suspicious and complex…One could see it was like a funny show.” Ahmadinejad may have a twisted sense of humor, but he is clearly anxious to exploit Ali-Mohammadi’s murder as a pretext for further repression.

News reports about Dr. Ali-Mohammadi reveal that the Tehran regime’s incredible charges are merely bald lies and disinformation. It turns out that the scientist was not affiliated with Iran’s nuclear program but was a professor at Tehran University who taught nuclear physics. More importantly, he was a supporter of Iran’s opposition, not a regime loyalist, and was one of 420 professors who signed a petition last June in support of Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi.

The breakneck speed exhibited by the Iranian regime in reacting to the mysterious death of a relatively unknown professor, elevating him to martyr status, and making self-serving statements blaming a foreign-supported conspiracy for his death suggest that Iran’s ruthless rulers conspired to plot his murder and exploit his death for political purposes. This cynical crime is consistent with the regime’s ruthless tactics in repressing political opposition by brute intimidation — shooting and beating demonstrators, throwing them in jail where they often are tortured or raped, and staging show trials to discredit their reform efforts. Few Iranians, let alone foreigners, are likely to be duped by this cold-blooded scheme. But it is another ominous sign that Iran’s Islamist dictatorship will stop at nothing to maintain its grip on power.