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Iran Gives Hero's Welcome to Killer of Former Prime Minister Shapour Bakhtiar

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Ali Vakili Rad, one of the assassins of former Iranian Prime Minister Shapour Bakhtiar, received an enthusiastic welcome in Tehran, after being released early from a life sentence in a French prison. France denies that it struck a deal with Iran to win the release of a detained academic, despite accusations to the contrary.

Ali Vakili Rad received a hero's welcome at Tehran Airport, where he was met by Deputy Foreign Minister Hassan Qashqavi and members of his family. He was released by French authorities after serving 16 years of a life sentence, before being deported.

Vakili Rad was convicted by a French court in the brutal 1991 assassination of former Iranian Prime Minister Shapour Bakhtiar in a Paris suburb. Two accomplices escaped and were never brought to justice.

French prosecutors, the French press, and many Iranians in exile accused the Iranian regime of plotting the assassination. A previous attempt on Bakhtiar's life in 1980, which left two people dead, is also attributed to the Iranian government.

Looking slightly disoriented, Vakili Rad told Iranian journalists after returning home that he was relieved to be a free man.

He says that he has been through hell and that he is now pleased to have found what he calls paradise.

Some media outlets, as well as Iranians in exile, accused the French government of striking a deal with Tehran to win the release of detained French academic Clotilde Reiss, who was allowed to leave Iran, Sunday. French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero denies the charges.

He says that France was never involved in the slightest bargaining with the Iranians and goes on to insist that the French justice system is independent. He argues that it is up to French judges to determine the fate of Iranian citizens in various [legal] cases.

Vakili Rad was the second Iranian prisoner to be released by the French judicial system in under two weeks. Majid Kakavand, whom the U.S. had sought to extradite for the sale of sensitive technology to Iran, was freed by a French court, earlier this month.

Murderers, in France, are often released after serving a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison. Ali Nourizadeh of the Center for Arab and Iranian Studies in London says that what upset him is that Vakili Rad was being feted by the Iranian government after committing a gruesome crime.

"Based on the French legal system, a man who is sentenced to life imprisonment usually is released after 15 years; I mean, he's been in jail for 18 years, but what makes me annoyed is receiving him as a hero at Tehran Airport. He was involved in butchering Dr. Shapour Bakhtiar-cutting his head, his wrists-and the [Iranian] regime is welcoming him as a hero," he said.

Al Arabiya TV claimed in a report Tuesday that the French government had also agreed to sell spare helicopter parts to the Iranian government, as part of what it called a "deal" to win the release of French academic Clotilde Reiss.

In 1990, France expelled convicted murderer Anis Naccache to Iran, after serving just part of a life sentence for a previous, botched attempt on the life of Mr. Bakhtiar. The French press accused the government of President Francois Mitterrand of cutting a deal with Iran.

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