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Israel told US it carried out assassination of Iranian colonel, report says

According to reports, colonel Sayad Khodai was allegedly behind attempt to assassinate French-Jewish philosopher Bernard Henri Levy and Israeli citizens in Cyprus
Iranian women lift portraits of Revolutionary Guard colonel Sayyad Khodai during his funeral procession at Imam Hussein Square in Tehran, on 24 May 2022 (AFP)

Israel informed the US that it killed a colonel in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a warning to Tehran to stop the operations of a covert military unit to which the officer belonged, The New York Times reported, citing an unnamed intelligence official.

Colonel Sayad Khodai, who served in Unit 840 of the Quds Force - an elite branch of the IRGC responsible for its overseas operations - was gunned down in Tehran while parking his car outside of his home on Sunday.

According to the Times, Khodai is alleged to have been the deputy commander of Unit 840 and was involved in planning cross-border plots against foreigners, including Israelis.

He reportedly led the operations of Unit 840 in the Middle East and countries neighbouring Iran, where he recruited agents for assassinations and kidnappings.

He was allegedly involved in a plot to recruit an Azeri hitman to assassinate Israelis living on the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, and covert operations as far afield as Colombia.

Iran denies any involvement in the Cyprus plot and has called the claims "baseless".

'Defender of the shrine'

In a letter to the UN on Wednesday, Iran's ambassador to the UN, Majid Takht Ravanchi, urged the international community to condemn Khodai's assassination.

"In line with its responsibilities to genuinely fight terrorism and in a non-discriminatory manner, the UN is expected to condemn this atrocious act," Ravanchi said.

Without naming anyone specific, he said the attack was carried out "by certain regimes to advance their illegitimate foreign policy goals in the region". 

The letter described Khodai as "a member of the Iranian Armed Forces who played a significant role in the fight against terrorism and Daesh in the region." Daesh is the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group. 

Iran: Revolutionary Guard colonel 'assassinated' in Tehran, says state TV
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The IRGC has identified Khodai as a "defender of the shrine" - a title attributed to those who fought in Syria and Iraq against the Islamic State (IS) group, IS targeted sacred Shia shrines as part of its rule.

Thousands attended Khodai's funeral on Tuesday in central Tehran, where funeral prayers were led by the capital's top imam. Khodai's coffin was draped in the Iranian flag and posters hailed him as a "martyr".

According to the Wall Street Journal, Khodai played a central role in recently failed plots to kill an Israeli diplomat in Turkey, an American general in Germany, and French-Jewish philosopher Bernard Henri Levy.

Covert assassinations have been a central element in the fight between Israel and Iran. Israeli officials refer to the long-running conflict as the "war between the wars", which they say is aimed at degrading Tehran's capabilities to hit Israel in the event of an all-out war.

Israel is widely believed to have assassinated several Iranian scientists as part of efforts to hamper Tehran's nuclear programme.

In April, in a statement published by the semi-official Fars news agency, Iran's intelligence ministry said it had arrested three Mossad spies.