Coronavirus has killed a high-profile leader in Iran responsible for the U.S.-designated terrorist group Basij Forces, the Iranian news agency Tasnim confirmed. Mohammad Haj Abolghasem, a senior commander, was known as the ‘butcher of Tehran’ for his role in the bloody suppression of pro-democracy protests that began in November 2019, the Iranian exile group said.
Abolghasem’s Basij Forces took active part in crushing anti-regime protests. Over 1,500 Iranians were killed by the pro-regime forces during the clampdown. Basij and pro-regime forces were involved in gunning down unarmed protesters. They even used sharpshooters, as well as machine guns mounted on helicopters and pickup trucks, to shoot into crowds.
Basij Forces, affiliated to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), were behind “terror plots and campaigns of mayhem across the region and are complicit in the recent murders of around 1,500 Iranians protesting for freedom,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in statement in January 2020.
Abolghasemi is not the only high-profile Iranian terrorist to contract the coronavirus. Iran’s Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar, who acted as the spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy hostage-takers in 1979, was also among the infected, state-run newspaper confirmed.
Jerusalem–based Israel Hayom newspaper reported ‘Butcher of Tehran’ death:
Another senior Iranian official has been killed by the coronavirus, Iran’s Tasnim News Agency reported on Wednesday, a day after Iran put its armed forces on alert to assist health officials in battling the virus, which has killed at least 77 people in an outbreak that has sickened top officials and pushed even supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei into wearing disposable gloves while trying to reassure the nation.Mohammad Haj Abolghasemi, 71, was hospitalized in Tehran a few days ago and died on Tuesday, state media reported.Abolghasemi was an intelligence officer and battalion commander in the Basij – the volunteer paramilitary wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps used for internal security and other tasks, such as violent suppression of civilian protests.Relatives of Abolghasemi told news outlets outside of Iran that he was apparently infected with the virus while on duty, after local authorities failed to issue proper warnings about avoiding large gatherings or physical contact.As stated, Abolghasemi, was a senior commander in the Basij and served as an Iranian intelligence officer after the Iran-Iraq War.Websites affiliated with Iran’s exiled opposition celebrated Abolghasemi’s death, calling him a “butcher” and a “hangman” due to the role of the Basij in brutally suppressing popular countrywide protests over the past year, in which hundreds of Iranian civilians were killed.
The high-profile casualties call into question the role played by IRGC in the coronavirus outbreak in Iran. Family members of Abolghasem told media that he contracted the virus “while on duty.” This is a interesting revelation given the media reports claiming that IRGC was operating flights into China as late as February 25.
“Revolutionary Guard owned Mahan Air has continued its flights to four Chinese cities in the past three weeks despite consistent denials by Iranian officials,” the Czech Republic-based Radio Farda reported last week. It is unclear why IRGC would operate secretive flights into China despite the known risk of outbreak.
The flights by Mahan Air are often linked to carrying Iranian terror operatives and weapons supplies. “Mahan Air has transported IRGC-QF [Quds Forces] operatives, weapons, equipment, and funds abroad” to supply terrorist groups across the Middle East,” U.S. Treasury said in a December 2019 report.
The high-profile death highlights the spread of coronavirus among the Iranian regime’s top brass. Iran’s former Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Sheikholeslam also succumbed to the disease. Besides country’s Vice President Ebtekar, deputy Health Minister and 23 members of Parliament have also contracted the disease.
After China, Iran has been worst hit by the coronavirus. At least 4,747 confirmed cases of the virus have been reported in the country. With death toll crossing 120, the outbreak in Iran is the deadliest outside China.
[Cover image via Twitter]