TEHRAN – Thousands of mourners poured into the streets of Tehran on Tuesday to pay their respects to a senior Revolutionary Guard member fatally shot by two gunmen earlier this week, punching the air with their fists and chanting “Death to Israel.”
The killing on Sunday of Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodaei bore the hallmarks of previous deadly shooting attacks in Iran blamed on Israel, such as those targeting the country’s nuclear scientists.
There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack. Iranian officials have blamed “global arrogance,” which is the code for the United States and Israel.
The funeral procession snaked through the main Tehran cemetery as mourners shouted anti-US and anti-Israel slogans. A prominent poster hailed Khodaei as a martyr along with Gen. Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian general killed in a US drone strike in 2020 in Iraq, and featured tattered Israeli, American and British flags.
“Iran is a victim of terrorism,” the banner declared, overlaid with the logos of Mossad and the Central Intelligence Agency.
Guard commander Gen. Hossein Salami as well as Gen. Esmail Ghaani, leader of Iran’s expeditionary Quds Force, attended the funeral.
Ghaani also offered condolences at Khodaei’s home on Monday night. Iran’s nuclear negotiator visited the crime scene, underscoring the government’s shock. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi vowed revenge. A street in Tehran has already been named after the colonel.
The 50-year-old Khodaei remains a shadowy figure, and Iran has yet to offer biographic detail beyond saying that he was a member of the elite Quds Force that oversees operations abroad through Iran’s allied militias across the Middle East. The Guard has described him as “defender of the shrine” – a reference to Iranians who support militias fighting the extremist Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.
According to a report Monday in the Iranian opposition media outlet Iran International, Khodaei was responsible for a 2012 car bomb targeting an Israeli diplomat in New Delhi, which injured the envoy’s wife. Khodaei was also reportedly behind a series of botched bombings a day later in Thailand aimed at killing Israeli envoys.
Reports in Hebrew and Iranian media said he had planned kidnappings and other attempts to attack Israeli and Jewish targets worldwide and was in charge of recruiting drug dealers and other criminal entities to carry out the attacks.
Women in black chadors wailed and wept over Khodaei’s coffin, an ornate box covered with flowers and draped with the Iranian flag and mourning symbols of the Shiite faith.
“We want revenge only,” Moghtaderi, one of the mourners, told The Associated Press at the funeral. She gave only her last name. “Enemies must be aware that we are loyal to the martyrs and their blood is so precious to us.”
Khodaei was shot five times by two unidentified gunmen on motorbikes in his car in the middle of Tehran on Sunday.
Tehran has vowed to avenge the assassination but stopped short of directly blaming Israel. Unsourced Hebrew media reports claim that intelligence shows that only a foreign body could have carried out such a brazen attack on Khodaei.
Iranian authorities have yet to pin down the suspects, even though the incident took place in the heart of one of the most secure areas in Tehran – on Mohahedin-e Eslam Street, which is home to other senior officials in the IRGC and its elite Quds. Force.
Israel, which has made no official comments on the incident, has reportedly raised the security alert level at its embassies and consulates around the world, fearing a retaliatory Iranian attack.
An unsourced Channel 13 report also cited fears that Jewish targets might be attacked overseas, and said Israel is also on alert for the possibility of some kind of response from across the northern border.
Khodaei’s assassination was the most high-profile killing inside Iran since the November 2020 killing of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.