Iran cleric who founded Hezbollah, survived book bomb, dies
Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, a Shia cleric who as Iran's ambassador to Syria helped found the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and lost his right hand to a book bombing reportedly carried out by Israel, died Monday of the coronavirus. He was 74.
A close ally of Iran's late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Mohtashamipour in the 1970s formed alliances with Muslim militant groups across the Mideast. After the Islamic Revolution, he helped found the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard in Iran and as ambassador to Syria brought the force into the region to help form Hezbollah.
In his later years, he slowly joined the cause of reformists in Iran, hoping to change the Islamic Republic's theocracy from the inside. He backed the opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi in Iran's Green Movement protests that followed the disputed 2009 re-election of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“If the whole people become aware, avoid violent measures and continue their civil confrontation with that, they will win," Mohtashamipour said at the time, though Ahmadinejad ultimately would remain in office. “No power can stand up to people’s will.”
Mohtashamipour died at a hospital in northern Tehran after contracting the virus, the state-run IRNA news agency reported. The cleric, who wore a black turban that identified him in Shiite tradition as a direct descendant of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, had been living in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, Iraq, over the last 10 years after the disputed election in Iran.
Iran's current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised Mohtashamipour for his “revolutionary services,” while President Hassan Rouhani said the cleric “devoted his life to promote Islamic movement and realization of the revolution’s ideals.”
Hard-line judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi, now considered the leading candidate in Iran's presidential election next week, also offered condolences to Mohtashamipour's family.
“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," Raisi said, according to IRNA.
Born in Tehran in 1947, Mohtashamipour met Khomeini as the cleric remained in exile in Najaf after being expelled from Iran by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.