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IRAN: Amid tight security, tensions mount at scientist's funeral

January 14, 2010 |  2:24 pm


Around 9 a.m. this morning a gray Mercedes hearse brought the body of slain Iranian scientist Massoud Ali-Mohammadi to his home for a funeral procession that, like many other recent events, became a display of  the political cleavages within Iranian society. 

The Tehran University professor was killed Tuesday in a mysterious bomb blast that government officials immediately blamed on Israel and the United States as part of a plot to slow Iran's nuclear program. Some of his students, colleagues and opposition news outlets, however, pointed out that his field of expertise in theoretical particle physics would hold little importance for the West, while his role as a campus supporter of the opposition made him a person of interest for hard-liners.

They suggested he was among the many Iranians assassinated by suspected hard-line vigilantes over the years for his reformist political views and activities.

In any case, security forces were prepared for any kind of confrontation, with armored police vehicles and motorcycles associated with pro-government militia members surrounding the area.

Standing all around were plainclothes security officers and uniformed police in riot gear. Some held cameras, recording those who arrived. 

Several hundred government supporters had flooded the street, setting up loudspeakers and chanting slogans against Israel and the United States.

Ali-Mohammadi's body was taken out of the hearse and carried into his north Tehran home.

A few minutes later, a group of several hundred students and scholars, most of them from the Tehran University physics department where he worked, arrived, carrying a banner that described Ali-Mohammadi as a martyr. They surveyed the scene.

One university teacher shouted out. "We will follow them," he said, pointing to the other crowd. "But we keep our distance from them. We are representing Tehran University."

Police became agitated. They tried to persuade the Tehran University crowd to join the others in the procession. 

But the students and academics resisted and kept their slow pace to assure their distance, and refused to take part in the sloganeering. 

"La ilaha illallah," they whispered over and over. "There is no god but Allah."

Next, some of the plainclothes security officials, bearded men in walkie-talkies, approached the Tehran University crowd, asking them to join the official procession. But they refused. A scuffle broke out. A few people were briefly detained. 

Buses shuttled the government supporters to the burial at a nearby shrine. 

Again loudspeakers on pick-up trucks trumpeted anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli slogans.A martial band played religious music. 

When the Tehran University contingent arrived, someone shouted, "Death to this demagogic government!"

Immediately, government supporters began chanting "Death to the hypocrites! Death to America! Death to Israel."

Again scuffles broke out, but the Tehran University crowd hushed their hotheads.

There were no reported arrests.

Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photo: An Iranian woman attends the funeral of Prof. Massoud Ali-Mohammadi at his home in north Tehran. Credit: Atta Kenare / AFP / Getty Images