Published November 17, 2014
Life in Iran just isn’t what it used to be – even for a fugitive who's wanted for murder in America.
Hassan Abdulraham, an American citizen, wants to return to the U.S. But there's just one problem: he doesn't want to go to prison for the cold-blooded assassination he admits he carried out 30 years ago in Maryland.
Born David Theodore Belfield to a Baptist family in North Carolina, Abdulraham has lived in Iran since he arrived there in 1980 after gunning down former Iranian diplomat Ali Akbar Tabatabaei and fleeing there by way of Canada and Europe.
Now, 30 years later, he says he's nostalgic for home. He longs to see his mother. Only, not through prison bars.
“I miss a lot of things about America," he told FoxNews.com from his apartment in Karaj, 30 miles west of Tehran. "I miss my family, my mother. I mean, wouldn’t you?”
For years, Abdulraham says, he has sent letters to American officials looking to cut a deal so he can avoid a life sentence in the U.S., but the confessed killer hasn't received a favorable response. He says he is willing to provide the U.S. with information on his work in Iran over the last 30 years. If that's true, Iranians who have followed his case say, it's doubtful Tehran would ever let him go home.
Things have not been going well lately for Abdulraham, who has found himself at odds with the Islamic Republic's hard-line mullahs.
He was fired last year from his job as the online news editor at Press TV, an Iranian government news agency, when he objected to the network's coverage of the disputed Iranian elections.
“I didn’t want to be used as a propaganda tool any longer," said Abdulraham, who is also known as Dawud Salahuddin. "I wanted nothing to do with it.”
His Iranian editors fired him by e-mail, he said. "They told me to get out."
But getting out isn't easy when you're wanted for capital murder back home, when the FBI and prosecutors in Maryland describe you as a remorseless killer who needs to turn himself in.
“He’s a fugitive from justice," said Montgomery County (Maryland) State’s Attorney John McCarthy. "We’re obviously aware of who he is and who he took his orders from, and our interest is seeing he’s held accountable for the crimes he’s committed.”
Abdulraham converted to Islam in his teens and has held a succession of jobs in Iran: celebrated Islamic radical, journalist, English teacher, actor and a mujahideen fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan in the late 1980s.
He was working as a security guard in an Iranian diplomatic office in Washington when he was approached by Iranian agents who asked him to kill Tabatabaei, a former press attaché opposed to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini.
Authorities say that on July 22, 1980, Abdulraham donned a U.S. Postal Service uniform and, armed with a handgun, knocked on Tabatabaei’s door in Bethesda. When Tabatabaei answered, Abdulraham shot him three times at point-blank range. The murder sent shockwaves through the community, which many U.S. government officials call home.
“It was a very unusual case," said Montgomery County Police Assistant Chief Wayne Jerman. "It was extremely different from the normal homicide Maryland is exposed to. The details are remarkable.”
Abdulraham admits he pulled the trigger, and he remains unrepentant about the killing. The motivation, he says simply, was that Tabatabaei had to die because he was Iran's enemy.
“This guy’s objective was the overthrow of Khomeini," he said. "He was involved and he died.”
He says the $5,000 he was paid for the hit went for travel expenses to flee the U.S.
Now semi-retired, Abdulraham says financial issues led him to move from cosmopolitan Tehran to a smaller apartment in the industrial city of Karaj, where he passes the time listening to jazz and reading.
Asked if he regrets how his life turned out, Abdulraham sighs.
“There’s a lot of sadness out there," he said. "And yeah, I’m unhappy. But I’m going to leave that question alone.”
The story of his life has been especially hard on his mother, Abdulraham said, “It’s not been a good experience for her.”
Authorities in America say he's welcome back anytime. They would like nothing more than to put him on trial, see him found guilty and sent to prison for the rest of his life.
“If he’s serious at all about wanting to come back, he can contact us through his attorney or other channels," McCarthy said. "Right now we’re at a stalemate. If he wants to stay there for the next 30 years and die there without seeing his family, that’s his decision."