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Iran Vows Revenge Over Guard Killing   05/23 06:04

   

   DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Iran's hard-line president vowed revenge 
on Monday over the killing of a senior Revolutionary Guard member gunned down 
in the heart of Tehran the day before, a still-mysterious attack on the 
country's powerful paramilitary force.

   Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi hailed Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodaei as a 
martyr and blamed "the hand of global arrogance," a reference to the United 
States and its allies, including Israel, for his slaying.

   There has been no claim of responsibility for the killing, carried out on 
Sunday afternoon by two unidentified gunmen on a motorbike. They shot Khodaei 
five times in a car, an unarmored SAIPA Pride -- among the cheapest, 
most-common Iranian vehicles.

   But the style of the brazen attack bore the hallmarks of previous slayings 
in Iran blamed on Israel, such as those targeting the country's nuclear 
scientists.

   "I have no doubt that revenge against the criminals for the blood of this 
martyr is assured," Raisi said before leaving Tehran for a state visit to the 
sultanate of Oman, a strategic Gulf Arab state that traditionally mediates 
between Tehran and the West.

   His remarks signaled Khodaei's prominence in the murky structure of the 
Guard, which exerts extensive control inside Iran and across the Middle East 
via allied militias. In yet another sign of Khodaei's power, Tehran city 
council announced it would name a street after him.

   The Guard identified Khodaei as a "defender of the shrine," a reference to 
Iranians who fight against the extremist Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq 
within the elite Quds force that oversees operations abroad.

   While Iran has yet to offer any definitive biographic information on 
Khodaei, Israeli media on Sunday night ran simultaneous stories alleging 
Khodaei had organized plots against Israeli diplomats, businesspeople and other 
foreign officials abroad.

   The news reports, all of which ran without attribution, suggest Israeli 
intelligence officials briefed journalists on the Iranian colonel. There was no 
official comment from the Israeli government.

   Iran has accused Israel of carrying out similar motorbike slayings targeting 
Iranian nuclear scientists a decade ago. In the last year, Iran blamed Israel 
for a particularly high-tech killing that targeted Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the 
country's chief nuclear scientist that masterminded the Islamic Republic's 
disbanded military nuclear program. A remote-controlled machine gun killed him 
on a country road.

   While Tehran has reacted with condemnation, officials have not acknowledged 
Khodaei's particular loss to the Guard. Iran will hold a funeral ceremony on 
Tuesday, local media reported.

   Two of Khodaei's neighbors jolted on Sunday by the sound of gunshots told 
state TV they had no idea he was a military man. One of them, an unidentified 
woman, told reporters she had suspected a brutal robbery as she caught a 
glimpse of the assailant speeding away from Khodaei's shattered car windows.

   The killing of Khodaei comes at a fraught time for the country. Negotiations 
with the Biden administration aimed at restoring the tattered nuclear agreement 
remain deadlocked, apparently over whether to lift the U.S. terrorism 
designation on the Guard. The European Union's envoy for the nuclear talks 
visited Tehran earlier this month in hopes of finding a compromise, apparently 
without result.

   With Israel's support, former President Donald Trump withdrew America from 
Tehran's nuclear accord with world powers in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions.

   The stranglehold of U.S. sanctions along with government mismanagement has 
led to soaring inflation, high youth unemployment and rising poverty. Raisi's 
administration has struggled to halt the economic tailspin.

   With pressures mounting in the wake of Russia's war on Ukraine and global 
supply chain snarls, the Iranian government last month slashed subsidies for 
imported wheat and raised prices as as much as 300% for other food staples.

   The move deepened economic despair and public anger, prompting sporadic 
protests against the government across several provinces.

   As the Iranian currency, the rial, shrivels in value and people watch their 
incomes diminish with surging prices, strikes over salary disputes among bus 
drivers and teachers have gained traction. Security forces have cracked down 
with arrests and officials have downplayed the unrest, with Raisi over the 
weekend saying that "hard decisions" needed to be taken even if people 
disagreed.

   The sultanate of Oman, where American and Iranian diplomats quietly drew up 
Tehran's nuclear deal -- signed in 2015 by Iran and six world powers -- gave 
Raisi a royal welcome on Monday as he touched down in Muscat.

   He met Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said to sign preliminary oil and gas 
deals and boost relations with the neutral country, known to deftly navigate 
the region's political and sectarian conflicts.

 
 
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