Who was Colonel Sayyad Khodaei (also spelled Sayad Khodayee, Khodai or Khodaeie), the Revolutionary Guard figure assassinated yesterday outside his Tehran home by two unidentified gunmen? A defender of religious shrines or the mastermind behind assassination plots targeting Israeli businesspeople and diplomats?
According to the Iranian totalitarian regime and the press that it controls, he was the heroic champion of sacred Shiite sites threatened by dangerous Al Qaeda terrorists. According to Israeli press reports apparently informed by off-the-record briefings from Israeli security officials, Khodaei designed plots to murder Israeli civilians abroad.
In the first day of coverage, international media outlets all cited the information from the Iranian sources while completely ignoring the Israeli reports.
International media cited Iranian reports claiming Khodaei was “one of the defenders of the shrines,” a role which the different outlets characterized in various ways.
Thus, Reuters reports:
Khodaei was “one of the defenders of the shrines”, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported, referring to military personnel or advisers who Iran says fight on its behalf to protect Shi’ite sites in Iraq or Syria against groups such as Islamic State.
Two people on a motorcycle opened fire on Khodaei, Tasnim reported, citing an informed source, while the semi-official ISNA news agency reported that members of an Israeli intelligence service network had been discovered and arrested by the Guards. …
Iran has been sending fighters to Syria since the early stages of its civil war to support its ally, President Bashar al-Assad, against Sunni rebels.
The “defenders of the shrines” also include Afghan and Pakistani volunteers.
Protecting religious sites against a notorious terror organization? That sounds noble. What evil individuals or entity would kill a defender of religious freedom?
And Israelis are suspected of killing the nice man who protects religious sites? Killing the protector of sacred sites does not sound very kind.
On the other hand, Israeli media outlets painted a very different picture of Khodaei’s activities. As Haaretz reported:
Khodaei was likely behind a series of plots against Israeli businesspeople and diplomats in various countries over the past few months.
Last month, U.K.-based Iran International News Channel reported that an agent of the Quds Force had been commissioned to assassinate three people, including an Israeli consulate employee, in Turkey. Israeli officials said the plot was thwarted by the Mossad.
It is likely that Khodayari was also behind the Iranian plot against Israeli businessman Teddy Sagi in Cyprus, which the Israeli government revealed in October, as well as attempts to harm other Israeli businesspeople in Africa, South America and Turkey.
Despite the two competing depictions, numerous international media outlets reported, like Reuters, just the Iranian account.
The Associated Press’s article yesterday was no exception, though it did acknowledge that Guard members are “shadowy figures” with “secret missions”:
Although the Guard 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. …
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.
Finally this morning, more than 12 hours after the Israeli media published reports attributing assassination plots to Khodaei, AP belatedly reports:
While Iran has yet to offer any definitive biographic information on Khodaei, Israeli media on Sunday night ran simultaneous stories alleging Khodaei had organized plots against Israeli diplomats, businesspeople and other foreign officials abroad.
The news reports, all of which ran without attribution, suggest Israeli intelligence officials briefed journalists on the Iranian colonel. There was no official comment from the Israeli government.
Agence France Presse reports today somewhat less specifically on what exactly “defenders of the shrines” are tasked with doing:
The ideological arm of Iran’s military, the Guards described Khodaei as a “defender of the sanctuary,” a term used for those who work on behalf of Iran in Syria or Iraq.
Iran maintains significant political influence in both countries and has backed President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria’s grinding civil war.
State television noted that Khodaei was “known” in Syria, where Iran has acknowledged deploying “military advisers.”
In any event, like its competitors, long after the Israeli information was published, AFP continued to ignore it.
France 24 is yet another leading outlet which even today continues to ignore the Israeli information regarding Khodaei’s responsibility for planning the murder of Israeli civilians. Thus, reflecting on the motive for Khodaei’s killing, France 24’s Reza Sayah reported today: “Several reports say that he was very active in the conflict in Syria in recent years.”
The New York Times likewise reported only the Iranian information:
The [Revolutionary Guards] statement identified the man as Col. Sayad Khodayee and said he had fought for years in Syria as part of Iran’s military deployment to “defend the shrine”—a term Iran uses to justify its presence in the war in Syria, and to identify those fighting for the Islamic State.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing unique about the media touching up the unpleasant record of an apparent terrorist.
CAMERA has reached out to the various media outlets in order to supply them with the Israeli information about Khodaei’s reported responsibility for planning the murder of Israeli civilians. Stay tuned for any updates.
Tamar Sternthal is director of the Israel office of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).
This article was originally published by CAMERA.