Ali Vakili Rad: The perfect murder and an imperfect getaway

In 1991, Iranian agent Vakili Rad killed ex-Iranian PM Shapour Bakhtiar in a chillingly executed operation. But the getaway plan floundered. Nineteen years later, the spy with the perfect murder plan heads home.


Shortly after 5pm on 6 August 1991, Ali Vakili Rad entered Shapour Bakhtiar's plush home in the Parisian suburb of Suresnes with two other men. They strangled and stabbed the former Iranian Prime Minister and his secretary in a brazen murder that shocked the world, and exposed the dark side of the Islamic Republic’s intelligence network.

Almost 19 years later, Vakili Rad left France for home, carried by plane back to Iran where he is regarded as a hero by many leaders.

The Iranian secret service agent was granted parole by a French court on Tuesday , a day after French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux signed his deportation order. Vakili Rad became eligible for parole last year after serving the minimum 18 years of his life sentence for the 1991 murders.

Speaking to reporters after the parole request was granted, Vakili Rad’s lawyer said his client would return to his home country to rebuild his life and work in a travel agency.

All well and good, but Vakili Rad’s own travel track record does not elicit much confidence. It was a series of travel mishaps, after all, that led to his arrest, while his compatriots in crime were whisked safely back to Iran by their handlers.

Checking in and checking out of Bakhtiar’s house

On the morning of the attack, Vakili Rad and the two other assassins handed over their passports to the guards outside Bakhtiar’s Suresnes home.

The final Iranian prime minister under the Shah, Bakhtiar was a towering figure in the Iranian expat community. In his youth, he had fought in the Spanish Civil War against General Franco's fascist forces. A graduate of the Sorbonne University, he volunteered to fight with the French Resistance against the German occupation during World War II.

Bakhtiar fled to France following the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, and was provided with massive security by his French hosts. In exile, he led the National Movement of Iranian Resistance, which fought the newly-established Islamic Republic of Iran.

Twelve years later, in what was described as a perfect murder, Vakili Rad and his fellow assassins managed to make their way into Bakhtiar’s heavily guarded home, where they killed the former statesman and his secretary using knives from his own kitchen, according to court documents.

The three men then calmly collected their passports from the security counter outside the house and fled.

Lost at Lake Leman

But then things started to go wrong for Vakili Rad. Under the original plan, two of the assassins – Vakili Rad and Mohammad Azadi - were to make their way into Switzerland, from where they would be flown to Iran.

But the two men, who spoke no French, failed to make it to the French border town of Annecy. Travelling under fake Turkish passports, Vakili Rad and Azadi were supposed to change trains at Lyon. But Lyon has two train stations, and the men got off at the wrong one.

Eventually Azadi and Vakili Rad arrived in Geneva, where they checked into separate hotels. The two men had planned to meet their contacts outside the Iran Air offices in the city. Azadi met his contact and was whisked out of the country. Vakili Rad, however, got hopelessly lost, and was found wandering the banks of Lake Leman.

He was extradited to France, where in 1994 he was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murders. Almost two decades after that fateful August afternoon, Vakili Rad’s life now enters a new chapter.

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