Two intelligence officers at an Iranian consulate in Turkey instigated the killing last November of an Iranian dissident in İstanbul who criticized the Islamic Republic’s political and military leaders, two senior Turkish officials told Reuters.
The accusation is likely to strain ties between Turkey and Iran, two regional powers that had grown closer under the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Masoud Molavi Vardanjani was shot dead on an İstanbul street on Nov. 14, 2019, a little over a year after the Turkish officials say he left Iran.
A police report on the killing, published two weeks ago, said Vardanjani had an “unusual profile.” It said he worked in cyber security at Iran’s defense ministry and had become a vocal critic of the Iranian authorities.
According to the report Vardanjani had posted a message on social media targeting Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards in August, three months before he was shot dead.
“I will root out the corrupt mafia commanders,” the post said. “Pray that they don’t kill me before I do this.”
A week after the killing, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described it as “another tragic example in a long string of suspected Iran-backed assassination attempts” of Iranian dissidents. He did not elaborate further.
Turkish authorities did not publicly accuse the Iranian government of involvement at the time. But the two senior Turkish officials said the Turkish government would now raise Vardanjani’s killing with Iran, and one of them said Turkish prosecutors were also following the case.
The suspected gunman and several other suspects, including Turks and Iranians detained in the weeks after the killing, told authorities they had acted on orders from two intelligence officers at the Iranian consulate, the first official said.
“It was reflected in the testimony of the suspects under arrest that these two Iranians, carrying diplomatic passports, had given the order for the assassination,” he said, identifying the two men by their first names and initials.
The second Turkish official said evidence including the suspects’ statements suggested “Iranian nationals played a serious role in both instigating and coordinating” the killing.
Both of the Turkish officials said Ankara would soon deliver a formal response to Iran over Vardanjani’s killing and the role they said was played by officials with diplomatic passports.