DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, a Shiite cleric who helped found the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah
's ambassador to Syria
and lost his right hand in a book bombing
allegedly carried out by Israel
, died Monday of coronavirus
at the age of 74.
Mohtashamipour, a close ally of Iran's late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, formed alliances with Muslim
militant groups across the Middle East
in the 1970s, and after the Islamic Revolution, he helped found the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard in Iran and brought the force into the region to help form Hezbollah as ambassador to Syria.
In his later years, he gradually joined the cause of reformists in Iran, hoping to change the Islamic Republic's theocracy from within, supporting opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi in the Green
Movement protests that followed then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election in 2009.
“If the entire people
become aware, avoid violent measures, and continue their civil confrontation with that, they will win,” Mohtashamipour said at the time, though Ahmadinejad would ultimately remain in office.
Mohtashamipour died in a hospital in northern Tehran after contracting the virus, according to the state-run IRNA news
agency. The cleric, who wore a black turban that identified him as a direct descendant of Islam's Prophet Muhammad in Shiite tradition, had been living in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, Iraq, for the past ten years following Iran's disputed election.
Iran's current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, praised Mohtashamipour for his "revolutionary services," while President Hassan Rouhani stated that the cleric "devoted his life to promote Islamic movement and realization of revolution's ideals."
Ebrahim Raisi, Iran's hardline judiciary chief, has also expressed condolences to Mohtashamipour's family ahead of the country's presidential election next week.
According to IRNA, Raisi stated that “the deceased was one of the holy warriors on the way to the liberation of Jerusalem
and one of the pioneers in the fight against the usurping Zionist regime.”
Born in Tehran in 1947, Mohtashamipour met Khomeini while the cleric was in exile in Najaf after being expelled from Iran by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. In the 1970s, he crisscrossed the Middle East speaking to militant groups, assisting in the formation of an alliance between the future Islamic Republic and the Palestinian
Liberation Organization as it fought Israel.
After being arrested by Iraq, Mohtashamipour made his way to Khomeini's exile residence outside of Paris, where they triumphantly returned to Iran during the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
In 1982, Khomeini sent Mohtashamipour to Syria, which was then ruled by dictator Hafez Assad, where he oversaw the millions of dollars that poured in to fund the Guard's operations in the region.
, then dominated by Syria, which deployed tens of thousands of troops there, was invaded by Israel in 1982 as Israel pursued the PLO in Lebanon. Iranian support flowed into the Shiite communities occupied by Israel, aiding the formation of a new militant group known as Hezbollah, or "the Party of God."
The United States
blames Hezbollah for the 1983 bombing of the US Embassy in Beirut, which killed 63 people, as well as the later bombing of the US Marine barracks in the Lebanese capital, which killed 241 US troops, and another attack
that killed 58 French paratroopers. Both Hezbollah and Iran have denied involvement.
“The court concludes that Hezbollah and its agents received massive material and technical support from the Iranian government,” wrote U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth in 2003.
Lamberth’s opinion, citing a US Navy intelligence official, directly named Mohtashamipour as being told by Tehran to reach out to the nascent Hezbollah to “instigate attacks against the multinational coalition in Lebanon, and ‘to take a spectacular action against the US Marines.”
in IRNA only described him as "one of the founders of Hezbollah in Lebanon" and blamed Israel for the bombing that injured him; it made no mention of US allegations that he was involved in the suicide
bombings targeting Americans.
According to “Rise and Kill First,” a book on Israeli assassinations by journalist
Ronen Bergman, at the time of the assassination attempt, Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency had received approval from then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to pursue Mohtashamipour. They chose to send a bomb hidden inside a book described as a “magnificent volume in English about Shiite holy places in Iran and Afghanistan
When Mohtashamipour opened the book, the bomb exploded, ripping off his right hand and two fingers on his left hand, but he survived and went on to become Iran's interior minister and a hardline lawmaker in parliament before joining reformists in 2009.
This report was contributed to by Associated Press writer
Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran.