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The Tehran regime is anxious to see the 22-year old son of Maj.Gen. Mohsen Rezai return to Iran, and has deployed commercial agents,intelligence operatives, and intermediaries of all stripes in a majoreffort to squeeze the younger Rezai financially and isolate him,forcing him to leave the United States.
Ahmad Rezai returned to the United States unexpectedly on February9 from Costa Rica, where he had been staying at the mansion ofIranian businessman Hojjabr Yazdani. Rezai claimed in interviews withThe Iran Brief that Yazdani received money from his father in Tehranto lure him out of the United States and keep him in Costa Rica, farfrom the Iranian-American community in LA - and most importantly, farfrom the Farsi-language radios that beam into Iran.
Interviews given by Ahmad Rezai to the Farsi-service of RadioIsrael, Voice of America, and Radio Sedaye Iran in Los Angeles havecreated a stir inside Iran, because of his outspoken condemnation ofthe regime and of Islam. "Young people don't want to be Muslims,"Rezai said on a USIA "On the Line" television broadcast, "not when wesee what this regime does in the name of Islam." Adding insult toinjury, the show was dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the 1979Iranian revolution.
Lured from Los Angeles: Much mystery has surrounded thecircumstances of Rezai's departure from Los Angeles last September.We have pieced together the following account, based on Rezai'srecollections, copies of visas and travel documents of theintermediaries dispatched to lure him away, and interviews with othersources.
On September 1, 1998, an Iranian businessman based in Frankfurt,Parviz Shahvarani, arrived in Nicaragua from Colombia. From Managua,he phoned Yazdani in Costa Rica and faxed him a copy of his passport,so Yazdani could obtain an entry visa allowing him into CostaRica.
Shahvarani travelled by car to San Jose one week later, onSeptember 8, apparently carrying money for Yazdani from MohsenRezai's family back in Tehran. Shahvarani maintains an office inTehran and is personally close to General Rezai and to his brother,Omidvar Rezai, a member of the Iranian parliament. So is Shahvarani'sTehran partner Zolamvar (a/k/a Khosravi), a Pasdaran officer.
Shahvarani's companies in Germany - Tecimex GmbH, and IntecImport/Export GmbH - have procured military parts and technology forthe Pasdaran in Europe, Ahmad Rezai said, including handsets for the"Ansar" encrypted communication network used by the IRGC. Zolamvar isShahvarani's day-to-day link to the IRGC and their procurement needs.But Gen. Mohsen Rezai is his political godfather.
After delivering cash to Yazdani from Tehran, Shahvarani travelledto Los Angeles to meet with Ahmad Rezai, using a visa he had obtainedfrom the U.S. Embassy in Bonn on July 29, 1998.
Yazdani set up the trip by calling Rezai in Los Angeles andoffering to help him financially. He said he would send a friend toLos Angeles to talk to him Rezai agreed. That friend was ParvizShahvarani.
Shortly after arriving in Costa Rica with the money from Tehran,Shahvarani flew to Los Angeles. His first meeting with Ahmad Rezaitook place at the radio station owned by Iranian exile AsadollahMorovati, who has become an outspoken supporter of President Khatamiover the past year. Rezai had been giving a live interview on apopular call-in show. Shahvarani told him he wanted to help him outfinancially.
Seeing Rezai was suspicious, at subsequent meetings Shahvaranitold him he wasn't safe in Los Angeles. Iranian government agentswere planted among the exiles, he said. Rezai could never know who totrust.
Eventually Yazdani himself joined them in Los Angeles, finallyconvincing Rezai to fly back with him to Costa Rica. What Rezaididn't realize until several months later was the trick Yazdani hadpulled on him.
[Margin: Not long after Shahvarani and Yazdani fetched AhmadReza from LA, his father told Iranian radio he had sent "two Iraniangovernment agents to the United States" to get his son back.]
Because Rezai had entered the U.S. on a temporary visa as apolitical refugee, he was required to get prior approval from theImmigration and Naturalization Service before travelling outside thecountry, to ensure he could return to the United States.
But Yazdani told him he needed no special visas. So when Rezaiwent to the U.S. embassy in Costa Rica in January to apply for a visato return to the U.S., he was told he could not do so because he hadfailed to obtain the exit permit from INS. And so for more than threemonths, Rezai was trapped in Costa Rica, a virtual prisoner inYazdani's gilded cage.
Rezai eventually called the Washington, DC-based Foundation forDemocracy in Iran seeking assistance, and the Foundation Director(who publishes this newsletter), helped him convince INS that he hadmade an honest mistake when he left Los Angeles. Slipping out of thehouse when Yazdani was absent, Reza'i telephoned FDI with his flightplans. Early on the morning of February 9, 1999, before Yazdani wasawake, he slipped out of the house and headed for the San Joséairport.
Mind-games: By this point, Ahmad had been joined in Costa Rica byan 18-year old friend from Iran, Amir Tavanania. Amir had been sentout of the country by his mother in a last ditch effort to save herhusband, who had been jailed on orders of Gen. Mohsen Rezai, onsuspicions he had helped Ahmad Rezai escape from Iran one yearearlier.
The regime dealt harshly with the Tavanania family. Amir's olderbrother, Ali, had left Iran with Ahmad Rezai in February 1998, andaccompanied him on a two month odyssey across the Middle East andEurope, until they were finally granted political asylum by the U.S.Embassy in Vienna, Austria.
Ahmad Rezai and Ali Tavanania came to the United States in April1998, shared an apartment near Philadelphia, and worked in fast foodrestaurants while studying English at a local community college. Thenin June of last year, Ahmad moved to Los Angeles, and began theseries of radio and television interviews that so insensed his familyand the regime back in Iran.
The Tavanania's problems began on July 3, 1998, when Amir wassecretly listening to a call-in show on the Farsi Service of RadioIsrael, where Ahmad Rezai was speaking. Eventually, Amir phoned intothe program, and expressed his support for Rezai's rejection of theIslamic regime and his calls for freedom. "Five minutes after I hungup the telephone," Amir told the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, "aMr.Tavakoli from the Ministry of Information [MOIS] called myparents and asked my mother why I had called the Israeli radio."Three weeks later, Amir, his 13-year old brother, and his parentswere jailed at an MOIS detention center on Pirouzi Avenue in Tehran."First, they interrogated us all together," Amir recalled. "Then,after several hours, they separated us. They asked us why we hadhelped Ahmad Rezai to leave Theran. I felt they were seeking ourcooperation in getting Ahmad to return to Tehran."
Finally, when that help did not come, the regime resorted toharsher tactics, jailing the father on December 13, 1998, shuttingdown the private preparatory schools he ran in Tehran, and seizingthe family's possessions. Amir left Iran one week after his fatherwas jailed, and joined Ahmad Rezai in Costa Rica one month later.With assitance from FDI, he has now been granted political asylum inthe United States.
Since coming to the United States, Amir has been told by hismother in Tehran that his father was taken to Evin prison and badlybeaten. The regime's goal was clear. "They told my mother that ifAhmad returned, they would release my father. But if Ahmad didn'treturn, they would kill my father. My mother said I should talk toAhmad, to do everything I could to persuade him to return to Iran.Otherwise, they would kill my father."
Help from the FBI: The mind games continued for severalweeks, until the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Philadelphiaweighed in.
Just days after Ahmad left the Philadelphia area, where he hadshared an apartment with Amir's brother Ali, Ali disappeared.According to a cousin in the area, Ali had been accepted into an FBIWitness Protection Program. Under these unusual procedures, witnesseswho are believed to possess credible information of major crimes(terrorism, mafia racketeering, drug smuggling, etc.) are whisked offthe street, lodged in safe houses, and given protected identities.They are also given money. What did Ali Tavanania have that couldhave been of interest to the FBI in Philadelphia in June 1998, thathe and Ahmad Rezai did not have two months earlier?
Ahmad believes the answer is simple. "Ali told the FBI I workedfor my father, that I had come to the United States to do terroristjobs for the Islamic Republic. He told them I had bought my father apair of shoes. That was the evidence that I was an agent of theIslamic Republic."
When Rezai arrived in Los Angeles he was hauled down by the localFBI and grilled for several hours about his father's shoes. And itwas the hostility he began to feel from the U.S. authorities thatcontributed to convincing him to accepting Yazdani's offer offriendship, security, and protection in Costa Rica. There are severalindications that the regime continues to feed false information tothe FBI through Ali Tavanania in Philadelphia.
When Ahmad Rezai and Amir Tavanania arrived in the United Stateslast month from Costa Rica, Amir was detained by the INS because helacked travel documents. Attempts by FDI to reach his brother inPhiladelphia proved fruitless.
Meanwhile, Amir's mother in Tehran began calling Ahmad Rezai,begging him to return to Iran to save her husband. And once Amir wasreleased from INS detention, she had Ali call him as well. Now shesaid that if Amir did not go with Ali, their father would be killedby MOIS. As in Los Angeles, the regime was seeking to isolate AhmadRezai, cut him off from friends and sources of support, to convincehim to return home. When Amir did eventually join his brother inPhiladelphia, their mother phoned to say her husband had beenreleased from jail.
Since then, other regime agents have attempted to locate AhmadRezai. Yazdani has continued to offer money, if he would return toCosta Rica. And his mother is trying to convince him to meet her in athird country, halfway between Iran and the U.S.
Clearly, Ahmad Rezai disturbs this regime. "I speak for 30 millionyoung people in Iran," Ahmad says. "We want freedom, and democracy,and the possibility of leading a normal life. We don't want thisregime and its terrorist ways."
If Ahmad is right - and foreign reporters travelling to Iranrecently provide anecdotal evidence that he is - then the regime hasa tremendous problem on its hands that makes Khatami's efforts atreform appear paltry in comparison. The children of this Revolutionhave rejected it in their hearts. They are not yet organized, andthey have few political instincts. But in their hearts they preferjeans, MTV and the freedom to love, to the bleak austere and paranoidworld of their parents and their clerical guides.