Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Colonel Sayyad Khodai was shot and killed by two motorcyclists in Tehran on Sunday, and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said, “I have no doubt that the blood of this great martyr will be avenged.”
Although the IRGC gave only scant detail about the attack that occurred in broad daylight in the heart of Iran’s capital, the group blamed the killing on “global arrogance,” typically code for the United States and Israel.
That accusation, as well as the style of the brazen killing, raised the possibility of a link with other motorbike slayings previously attributed to Israel in Iran, such as those targeting the country’s nuclear scientists.
The New York Times reported that Israel informed the US that it killed Khodai as a warning to Tehran to stop the operations of a covert military unit to which the officer belonged, Unit 840 of the Quds Force – an elite branch of the IRGC responsible for its overseas operations.
Khodai’s killing came with negotiations between Iran and world powers to restore a frayed 2015 nuclear deal stalled since March. One of the main sticking points is Tehran’s demand to remove the IRGC from a US terrorism list — a request rejected by Washington.
The two assailants shot Colonel Hassan Sayyad Khodaei five times in his unarmored Iranian-made Kia Pride, state media said, right off a highly secure street home to Iran’s parliament.
Reports identified Khodaei only as a “defender of the shrine,” a reference to Iranians who fight against the extremist Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq within the Guard’s elite Quds force that oversees foreign operations.
Little information was publicly available about Khodaei, as Quds officers tend to be shadowy figures carrying out secretive military missions supporting Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group, and other militias in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.
Khodai had previously fought in Syria, where Israel regularly carries out airstrikes on Iranian-backed militias supporting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Khodai was also reportedly behind attacks on Israeli targets in Kenya, Colombia, Cyprus, and Turkey.
According to reports, Khodai was allegedly behind attempt to assassinate French-Jewish philosopher Bernard Henri Levy and Israeli citizens in Cyprus.
Israeli embassies around the world were placed on high alert on following the assassination .
The Tehran prosecutor arrived at the crime scene within hours of the killing to investigate and demanded police urgently arrest the perpetrators. The probe’s speed suggested Khodaei’s prominence in the murky structure of the Guard’s overseas operations.
Those operations have come under repeated Israeli air attack in Syria. An Israeli strike near the Syrian capital of Damascus killed two Guard members in March, prompting Iran to retaliate by firing a missile barrage into northern Iraq.
Security forces were pursuing the suspected assailants, state TV reported, without offering further details or giving a motive for the killing.
Around the same time, state-run media said the Revolutionary Guard’s security forces had uncovered and arrested members of an Israeli intelligence network operating in the country, without elaborating on whether they had any connection to Khodaei’s slaying.
The colonel is the most important figure whose murder in Iran has been announced by Tehran since that of nuclear physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
Fakhrizadeh was killed in November 2020 near the capital in an attack on his convoy blamed by Iran on Israel.