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Iran New Prez Accused In Austria

Austrian authorities have classified documents suggesting that Iran's president-elect may have played a key role in the 1989 execution-style slayings of an Iranian Kurdish leader and two associates in Vienna, a newspaper reported Saturday.

Austria's Interior Ministry and the public prosecutor's office are investigating alleged evidence pointing to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's possible involvement in the attack, the daily Der Standard reported.

Officials were not immediately available to comment on the report Saturday.

Austrian Green Party leader Peter Pilz told the newspaper he wants a warrant issued for the arrest of Ahmadinejad, who he alleged "stands under strong suspicion of having been involved."

Pilz accused the hard-liner of planning the murders of Kurdish resistance leader Abdul-Rahman Ghassemlou and two of his colleagues, all of whom were shot in the head at a Vienna apartment by Iranian commandos on July 13, 1989. A fourth victim survived the attack and was able to crawl out of the apartment and alert Austrian authorities.

Pilz told Der Standard his source was an unidentified Iranian journalist living in France, who he said also claimed to have evidence that former Iranian President Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani gave the order to have Ghassemlou killed. He did not elaborate.

He said the ultraconservative Ahmadinejad, then a high-ranking member of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard, allegedly traveled to the Austrian capital a few days before the slayings to deliver the murder weapons to the commandos who carried out the attack. Austrian authorities have said the gunmen apparently entered the alpine country with Iranian diplomatic passports.

Pilz said the journalist was contacted in 2001 by one of the alleged gunmen, described as a former revolutionary guard who has since died in a drowning accident.

"The descriptions of the informant contained details of the scene (of the slayings) which could only have come from someone who was there," Pilz said. He said the gunman's account, which included "very convincing" evidence implicating Ahmadinejad, was turned over at the time to Austria's federal counterterrorism agency.

Prague's Pravo newspaper reported similar allegations on Friday, quoting Hossein Jazdan Panah, an exiled Kurdish opposition member, as saying Ahmadinejad "was in charge of hit operations abroad" at the time of the Vienna killings.

Ghassemlou, the gunmen's principle target, was secretary-general of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan. His delegation had been in Vienna for secret talks with envoys from the Tehran regime.

The gunmen managed to slip out of Austria after the attack and were never arrested.

Pilz's Green Party pressed unsuccessfully in 1997 for the creation of a special parliamentary inquiry to look into a possible cover-up by Austrian officials, who it believes bowed to pressure from Iran's government and allowed the commandos to leave Austria, allegedly providing them a police escort to Vienna's international airport. Those allegations have never been proven.

The allegations against Ahmadinejad come as some of the Americans who were taken captive in Iran in 1979 implicate the newly elected leader in the hostage crisis. Radical Iranian students took over the U.S. Embassy and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.

The United States said Friday it would not be surprised if Ahmadinejad turns out to have been a main participant in the holding of American hostages in Tehran a quarter-century ago, although the Bush administration cautioned that it was still trying to determine the facts.

Five former U.S. hostages who saw Ahmadinejad in photographs or on television said they believe he was among the hostage-takers. One said he was interrogated by Ahmadinejad.

"I don't think it should be surprising to anyone if it turns out to be true," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said in Washington. "This is a regime run by an unelected few that only allowed its hand-picked candidates to run in an election that was well short of free and fair."

In a June 16 statement, the National Council of Resistance of Iran accused Ahmadinejad of having served as "the commander of the team that was responsible for carrying out the anti-Islamic and inhuman fatwa to murder the British author Salman Rushdie" for perceived insults to Islam.

"He was the governor-general of Ardabil province in northwest Iran and responsible for the crackdown and killing of dissidents in the province," it said.

The Paris-based council, which seeks to topple Iran's ultra-religious government, is the political arm of the Mujahedeen Khalq, a group that Washington and the European Union include on their lists of terrorist organizations.

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