At home the modern middle class was shocked by the assassinations of several writers and dissident politicians in late 1998. In November three authors, who were in the process of founding a secular Writers Association, were kidnapped and killed, and their corpses thrown in the streets of Tehran. The next month 70-year-old Dariush Foruhar, a leader of the secular National Front, and his wife, Parvane, were fatally stabbed at home by someone who had made an appointment to see him. Ayatollah Khamanei strongly condemned the murders and instructed the intelligence agencies to apprehend the culprits. Declaring that "Islam is a religion of compassion," he alleged that unrest was being promoted by "Islam's enemies" and "foreign elements." 1 Khatami appointed a three-member committee, consisting of the intelligence minister, Qorban Ali Najafabadi, the interior minister, Abdul Wahid Musavi-Lari, and a representative of Leader Khamanei.
On 12 January the committee announced the arrest of ten suspects, some of them intelligence ministry agents. Six of them were later released. The remaining four worked for the intelligence ministry, and included a deputy minister, Said Imami, who had held this job since 1990 despite the purported disapproval of Presidents Rafsanjani and Khatami. They were alleged to have a death list which included Abbas Abdi, a prominent reformist journalist. 2 Najafabadi said that "evil and deviant agents" within his ministry were responsible for "the monstrous crimes which have brought the Islamic system into disrepute." Conservative politicians joined the chorus of condemnation that followed. And reformists claimed that conservative Najafabadi had been "imposed" on Khatami and that it was high time the ministry was restructured. Khatami acted. In late February he replaced Najafabadi with Ali Yunusi, who won the endorsement of 197 MPs.
The pro-reform press was rife with rumors and revelations. And in mid-June the plot thickened when the chief judicial investigator revealed on television that Imami had hanged himself in his cell. "Iranians are not used to such transparency about matters of this kind and the revelations have left them perplexed and confused," reported Saeed Barzin in the Middle East International.
Until recently the intelligence ministry was spoken of only in hushed