Ali Motamed’s wife had become accustomed to making excuses for her 56-year-old husband. Call-outs for his work as an electrician at the Dutch firm, Eneco, gave a handy reason for missing parties or even weddings without prompting undue curiosity.
A quiet, self-contained character around his colleagues, he appeared to them content to stay in watching television at the redbrick home he shared with Galina, 50, and their 17-year-old son on Hendrik Marsmanstraat in the centre of a small estate of cheap modern housing in Almere, a city east of Amsterdam.
On 11 December 2015 Motamed had tested his wife’s patience by refusing to go to his brother-in-law’s funeral in France – but he had been right to watch his step that Friday. Two men who had been hired to kill him were sitting outside his home in their stolen BMW, prosecutors would later tell a court.
Motamed was saved that day by a late-morning appointment which meant he broke with his usual practice of leaving the house at 6.45am. The assassins, hoping to get to him in the quiet gloom of the morning, were captured on CCTV driving out of Hendrik Marsmanstraat having missed their moment.
But Motamed’s luck soon ran out. The following Tuesday, as he emerged from his house into the cold winter air, jogging the few yards from doorstep to bus stop, his killer emerged from the blue BMW to shoot him in the head at point-blank range, before returning to the car and speeding off.
Two men, Anouar Aoulad-Buochea, 29, and Moreo Menso, 36, are currently on trial for the murder, an alleged contract killing the Dutch police believe was directed by notorious gangster Naoufal Fassih, known as Noffel on the street, who is already serving an 18-year sentence for arranging a murder for cash. All three men deny involvement.
The men accused of the murder had no idea who or why Motamed needed to “sleep”, as it was termed in one of a cache of unencrypted BlackBerry messages, revealed in court evidence. Local police were initially baffled about the motive.
But this week the that they now believe what Motamed’s wife had insisted to police as she was driven to the hospital on the day of her husband’s death: the killing had been ordered by the Iranian government.
The killing has opened the eyes of the world to a pattern of Iranian hit jobs, often executed through criminal gangs, that has been seized upon by critics of . To them, the killings raise fresh questions about the trust placed in the country to keep to the contentious accord under which Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia agreed to lift economic sanctions in return for Tehran lowering its nuclear ambitions.
The US administration, which pulled out of the deal last year, with the president, Donald Trump, labelling it “rotten”, seized on the development. The secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said that the US would redouble its efforts “to put real pressure on Iran”.
Motamed’s death was, according to a letter to the Dutch parliament, one of two murders of opponents of the Iranian regime on Dutch territory, alongside the 2017 shooting of Ahmad Mola Nissi, the leader of a separatist movement from the Iranian region of Ahwaz, who was found dead by his son Khaled on the doorstep of the family home in The Hague. He had been shot five times with a gun fitted with a silencer. Police are investigating whether the crime is linked to a gang in Rotterdam.
Motamed’s real name was Mohammad Reza Kolahi Samadi, an Iranian dissident sentenced to death in absentia after fleeing the country in 1981, accused of planting a bomb at the Islamic Republic party’s headquarters, killing 73 people. Among the dead was the second-in-command to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Iran’s supreme leader.
Samadi had long known he was on a death list, although he only confided his real name to Galina in 2000, five years into their marriage, and he had withheld the full truth from his son, pledging to tell all when he turned 18.
Samadi had avoided events organised by his Afghan wife’s family for fear of pictures of his face emerging on social media. One photograph, taken at his son’s school graduation, appeared on his niece’s Facebook page but he allowed it to be left there “because he had grown older and grey”, and “no one would recognise him any more”, according to the Dutch newspaper, Het Parool. That may have been a misjudgment.
Dick Schoof, the director general of the Dutch security service, the AIVD, said that, since the revelation by the government, his intelligence agency was now involved in intense efforts with other countries to research the extent of Iranian interference in .
But the truth is that over four decades Iran is thought to have triggered the assassination of numerous enemies abroad, and critics say the west has been culpable in its silence.
Suspected targets include dissident Kurds, leaders of the Ahwaz minority sect and members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq organisation, which allied with Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war. Countries in which assassinations are thought to have been carried out include France, Germany, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the US.
“The Iranian regime has a history of targeting the opposition abroad,” said Mohanad Hage Ali, communications director of the Carnegie Middle East Center. “From the Berlin attack to the assassination of former shah officials. This is a continuation of their previous policy. The current wave of killings follows a rise in attacks inside Iran, perhaps driven by the support of its regional adversaries.”
In the wake of the Dutch revelation, ambassadors from Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Germany and the visited the Iranian foreign ministry in Tehran “to convey their serious concerns” about the regime’s behaviour. Sanctions were imposed on two individuals, along with the country’s intelligence agency. Yet, as the measures were imposed, officials were quick to insist that there would be no impact on the nuclear accord with Tehran.
The murder of the electrician on Hendrik Marsmanstraat, for all that it was a tragedy for his family and an infringement of Dutch sovereignty, may well prove to be merely a fleeting glimpse into the brutal world of realpolitik.