Dawud Salahuddin

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Dawud Salahuddin, sometimes spelled Daoud Salahuddin[1] (also known as Hassan Abdulrahman or Hassan Tantai)[2] is an American convert to Islam who in 1980 killed Ali Akbar Tabatabai, an Iranian dissident and critic of Ruhollah Khomeini, and is in exile in the Islamic Republic of Iran.[3][4][5] He shot Tabatabai on his front door posing as mailman in the last known successful Iranian assassination plot on US soil. [6]


Biography and activities[edit]

Dawud Salahuddin was born David Theodore Belfield in Roanoke Rapids, NC on November 10, 1950 and grew up in Bay Shore, New York, on Long Island, in a church-going Baptist family of four boys and one girl.[4]

According to Salahuddin, as a child the "most damage done" to him was the feeling he had that it was "an indecency, an insufficiency, certainly a shame not to be white." In 1963 he describes himself as having become politicized while watching news footage from Birmingham, Alabama, showing commissioner of public safety Bull Connor turn back civil-rights marchers with fire hoses and dogs, which caused him to develop "an implacable hatred toward all symbols of American authority." After graduation from high school, he attended Howard University for one semester. He was attracted to Islam because it is "color-blind" and converted at the age of 18. He frequented an Iranian student center run by Bahram Nahidian. During the early 1970s he spent time visiting prisons around Washington to, "bring the message of Islam to black inmates". He met Said Ramadan in 1975 and Ramadan later became his mentor. He was heavily influenced by Said Ramadan, an Egyptian lawyer and Islamic scholar. An article in the New Yorker quotes him stating that as an "angry and alienated" African-American, "my biggest aspiration was to bring America to its knees, but I didn't know how." [4]

Salahuddin first worked for the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1980, shortly after the Islamic Revolution as a security guard at an Iranian diplomatic office in Washington.[7] He accepted an assignment from the Islamic government to assassinate Ali Akbar Tabatabai, a former member of the Shah's regime living in exile in Bethesda, Maryland.[5]

According to a 2002 article in The New Yorker magazine, Salahuddin first attempted to convince his Iranian employers to let him kill a more prominent American target, such as Henry Kissinger or Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. — a grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt who had orchestrated the 1953 plot to depose Iran's prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddeq, and return the Shah to power. But Ali Akbar Tabatabai, an exile, was holding meetings of a counter-revolutionary group at his home in Bethesda at the time, and the Islamic government wanted him eliminated.[5]

On July 22, 1980, Salahuddin showed up at Tabatabai's front door in Bethesda, Maryland, dressed as a mailman, telling Tabatabai's associate he had a special delivery package that required Tabatabai's signature. When Tabatabai appeared, Salahuddin shot him three times in the abdomen and fled. Tabatabai died 45 minutes later. Salahuddin made his way to Iran by way of Canada and Switzerland.[4][5]

In Iran[edit]

Salahuddin arrived in Iran July 31, 1980 and has lived there most of the time with short periods in other Muslim countries and North Korea being careful not to expose himself to extradition back to the United States for homicide.[4][8]

In his over thirty years as a fugitive he has worked as an English teacher, a war correspondent and a Web editor, fought the Soviets alongside the Afghan mujahedin, and acted "in a film by one of Iran's leading directors in 2000."[5] He is married to an Iranian woman, speaks Persian and works as a freelance writer. He denies receiving any direct payments from the Iranian government aside from the $5000 he received for killing Tabatabai.[4]

Salahuddin admitted to killing Tabatabai in 1995 on ABC's 20/20 programme when he was interviewed in Istanbul.[9] In conversations with a reporter from The New Yorker magazine he denied the killing was "murderous", stating it was "an act of war ... In Islamic religious terms, taking a life is sometimes sanctioned and even highly praised, and I thought that event was just such a time."[4]

According to the BBC, Salahuddin is known "by several other names," and US magazine Time reported "he is also known as Hassan Abdul Rahman, a former editor of the state-sponsored English-language newspaper Iran Daily."[10] According to Salahuddin he was a soldier with the mujaheddin in Afghanistan from December 1986 to May 1988.[4]

Salahuddin worked as chief online editor for Press TV (Tehran-based English language international television news channel which is funded by the Iranian government) for three years before resigning in July following the disputed presidential elections. He is "close" to prominent Iranian reformists film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Masoumeh Ebtekar, the former spokeswoman for the hostage-takers at the United States Embassy in Tehran.[5]

Despite the warrant for his arrest, Salahuddin has had some indirect contact with American authorities. Shortly after the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, US intelligence agents established contact with Salahuddin, who "began a back-channel relationship with American authorities and talked about returning to the United States to stand trial in the murder of Tabatabai." He sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno dated March 5, 1994, proposing mediating between the U.S. and "certain key figures in the worldwide Islamic movement" in return for freedom from prosecution. No reply was given to his letter.[4]

Film appearances[edit]

Salahuddin plays a sympathetic major character who aided the heroine of the 2001 film Kandahar by director Mohsen Makhmalbaf. The heroine of the film is a Canadian woman, born in Afghanistan, who slips back into Afghanistan, before the fall of the Taliban in order to try to rescue her sister. During her travels she is befriended by an English speaking medic played by Salahuddin who turns out to be an exiled American political activist. The heroine of the film really did travel to Afghanistan, in an attempt to rescue her friend, and Salahuddin is an American in exile for a "political activity".

In response to criticism of his casting of Salahuddin, Makhmalbaf wrote in The Guardian newspaper that he (Makhmalbaf), had been tortured by the SAVAK, of which the murder victim Tabatabai was "a prominent member", and that Tabatabai's brother

does not understand that Belfield [Salahuddin] is also a victim — a victim of the ideal he believed in. His humanity, when he opened fire against his ideological enemy, was martyred by his idealism.[11]

After the film was released, Doug Gansler, then State's Attorney for Montgomery County, later Attorney General of Maryland, said that Salahuddin was still a wanted man.[1]

In 2006 film-maker Jean-Daniel Lafond released a film entitled American Fugitive: The Truth About Hassan, about Salahuddin. Lafond's film stirred controversy. Some reviewers called it "convincing, gripping, moving",[3] while others thought it gave "credence to conspiracy theories debunked years ago" and sympathy for "a cold-blooded murderer".[12]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Michael Taylor, "'Kandahar' Actor Accused of Being Assassin: Tantai Said to Have Killed Diplomat", San Francisco Chronicle, January 04, 2002.
  2. ^ Benjamin Nugent. With reporting by Azadeh Moaveni/Tehran (December 19, 2001). "A Killer in "Kandahar?"". Time. Retrieved November 21, 2008. 
  3. ^ a b American Fugitive:The truth about Hassan, InformAction
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i An American Terrorist: He's an assassin who fled the country. Could he help Washington now?, The New Yorker, August 5, 2002
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Just Another American Hit Man, Actor and Journalist Living in Iran" By Robert Mackey September 16, 2009
  6. ^ Oct 2011 The last alleged Iranian assassination plot on U.S. soil was a success
  7. ^ Mackey, Robert (16 September 2009). "Just Another American Hit Man, Actor and Journalist Living in Iran". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 February 2013. 
  8. ^ Lafond's new film hits hot buttons, CBC, April 26, 2006
  9. ^ Actor or assassin? by Fiachra Gibbons The Guardian, 10 January 2002
  10. ^ Kandahar film's murder mystery 30 December 2001
  11. ^ The condemned 11 January 2002
  12. ^ Airbrushing a killer, National Post, May 2, 2006

External links[edit]