Attorney General Eric Holder today announced that U.S. authorities have uncovered a plot — allegedly supported by the Iranian government — to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. This recalls another incident in which an assassin, apparently working under the instruction of Iran, killed a diplomat to the United States.
On July 22, 1980, Ali Akbar Tabatabaei was shot dead in Bethesda, Maryland, by Dawud Salahuddin. Tabatabaei, an Iranian, had been a member of the diplomatic staff at Iran’s embassy to the U.S. until Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi was overthrown in 1979. After the revolution, Tabatabaei did not return to Iran, instead choosing to live in exile. He became a vocal critic of the new regime in Iran.
(As a result of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the ensuing hostage crisis, Iran no longer has an embassy to the U.S., nor does the U.S. have an embassy in Iran.)
Salahuddin — a U.S. citizen, born David Theodore Belfield — had converted to Islam as a teenager and consequently changed his name. In order to carry out the assassination, Salahuddin had gone to Tabatabaei’s home posing as a postal employee. When Tabatabaei answered the door, Salahuddin shot him to death.
Immediately following the assassination, Salahuddin fled to Iran, where he lives today. Salahuddin claims that he assassinated Tabatabaei on the instructions of Iranian agents.