(CNSNews.com) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will pay an official visit Wednesday to Vienna, the city where, almost three decades ago, agents of the regime in Tehran, operating under the cover of diplomats, shot dead an exiled Iranian Kurdish leader and two others.
Critics are planning at least two protest rallies, one at a large public square in the Austrian capital, Maria Theresien Platz, when Rouhani is due to meet with Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, and another later to protest his appearance at the chamber of commerce.
Stephan Grigat of the organizing group, Stop the Bomb, said the rallies would protest European “appeasement” of the Iranian regime.
Next Friday marks the 29th anniversary of the murder of Abdol-Rahman Ghassemlou, the head of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI), and two of his associates, Abdullah Ghaderi-Azar and Fadel Rasoul.
They were shot dead in a Viennese apartment during a meeting with a three-man regime delegation meant to be negotiating a peace settlement with the PDKI. Austrian authorities allowed the three Iranians to leave the country, but later issued warrants for their arrest.
The assassinations were part of a series of killings of Iranian dissidents in Europe, linked in subsequent official investigations and court cases to the top echelon of the regime in Tehran.
In Washington on Monday, State Department director of policy planning Brian Hook noted the upcoming anniversary of the 1989 killings, and signaled that the administration intends to highlight the regime’s long history of involvement in terrorism.
“This month of July is the 29th anniversary that Iranian operatives, using diplomatic cover, assassinated the head of an Iranian Kurdish dissident group and two others,” he told a briefing.
Hook said the administration will be reminding people around the world about the regime’s involvement in “attacks, assassinations, bombings, cyber attacks, kidnapping, hostage-takings, hijackings, small arms attacks,” from the revolution in 1979 to the present day.
“And so when you have somebody like Rouhani going to Europe to try to bring the Europeans – it’s a very sad history of violence that Iran has committed against Europe since 1979,” he said. “And it’s important for Europeans to remember the kind of regime that they’re dealing with.”
At the time of the Vienna murders, Rouhani was a member of Iran’s Supreme Defense Council. When that body was replaced three months later with a newly-created Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), he became its first secretary – a position comparable to that of U.S. national security advisor – until 2003.
The SNSC, a body that includes representatives of the ministry of intelligence and security (MOIS) and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), was closely associated with a continuing campaign of assassinations of Iranian dissidents abroad.
Targets included Kazem Rajavi of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a former Iranian ambassador to the U.N., shot dead near Geneva in 1990. Swiss investigators accused the Iranian regime and later issued an arrest warrant for then-Intelligence Minister Ali Fallahijan.
Rouhani is in Switzerland on Monday and Tuesday, ahead of his visit to Austria.
Three years after Ghassemlou was gunned down in Vienna his PDKI successor, Sadiq Sarafkindi, met the same fate, along with three others, in a restaurant in Berlin named the Mykonos.
An Iranian man identified as a MOIS operative was later convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment, along with a Lebanese co-accused. Germany freed and deported them after they had served just 15 years.
The Mykonos trial ended with the presiding judge concluding that “Iran’s political leadership” – in the form of a secretive body called the Special Affairs Committee – had ordered the murders.
Among the members of the committee were Iran’s then newly-installed spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, then-President Hashemi Rafsanjani (who died last year), then-Foreign Minister (now Khamenei’s foreign policy advisor) Ali Akbar Velayati, and Fallahijan.
During Rouhani’s tenure on the SNSC, the regime is also accused of attacks including the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israel Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people.
Argentinian investigators’ suspect list includes Rafsanjani, Velayati, Fallahijan, IRGC commanders and supposed diplomats.
Rouhani was still at the helm of the SNSC when terrorists two years later bombed the Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 19 American service personnel and wounding some 240 more.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in a Dec. 2006 ruling found that the Iranian regime, MOIS and IRGC, were responsible for the attack, having financed, trained and provided travel documents to the Saudi Shi’ite terrorists who carried it out.